After cancer surgery, a model of recovery

The Baltimore Sun

When Trish Lannon decided to pose for a 2009 calendar, she figured it would be a good idea to tell her boss. After all, as an administrator with the Howard County public school system, Lannon has a reputation to uphold.

And now, as Miss March, the Elkridge resident is projecting a different kind of image.

Wearing workout clothes that reveal her toned midriff, Lannon stands in her photograph with hips thrust to the side and left thumb tugging the waistband of her pants. The five men and six other women featured in the calendar gaze confidently into the camera as they display enviable torsos in the stylish portraits.

There is one other characteristic the models share - vertical abdominal scars, the byproduct of colorectal cancer surgery.

Lannon appears in the 2009 "Colondar," a project of the Colon Club. The membership of the Web-based group consists of young survivors seeking to raise awareness of the disease, particularly that it can afflict adults of all ages.

"I was in a dark, scary, 'Oh my God' kind of place until I found the Colon Club," said Lannon, assistant principal at West Friendship Elementary School. "The people were so genuine that I decided to let go of being a private person."

Lannon's boss, Principal Corita Oduyoye, did not hesitate to give her full support.

"I believe it was important for Trish to be with the other models and to hear their stories and to know that [her diagnosis] wasn't a death sentence," Oduyoye said. "I have told her she is my role model and that I admire her strength."

A mother of three, Lannon knew something was up in late 2006. She had dropped three dress sizes without any substantial diet or exercise changes, and a mere walk up the steps could send her heart racing. She chalked it up to stress and excitement over her new promotion.

But one morning in March 2007, Lannon awoke with severe abdominal pain and a high fever. After fainting twice that day, she went to the emergency room, figuring she might have appendicitis.

The emergency room staff told Lannon that her blood volume was about one-third of normal.

"They said they didn't understand how I had even walked into the hospital and why I hadn't suffered a heart attack," she said.

Tests determined that she had an advanced stage of colon cancer. Conventional testing for the condition typically begins with a colonoscopy at age 50; she was 39.

Following surgery, Lannon sought ways to get information and connect with other young victims when she found the Colon Club's Web site. After she posted her photo, Lannon was encouraged to become a model for the calendar, which was first published in 2005.

Though her husband, Martin, encouraged her to pursue it, Lannon said she had her doubts. But the opportunity to tell her story and be a source of encouragement to others facing the disease won out and she applied.

The club's founder, Molly McMaster, a New York resident who was diagnosed on her 23rd birthday in 1999 and started the club in 2003, said she was hoping to hear from Lannon.

"She really stood out on the message board - her personality just popped," McMaster said. "Trish has the fighting spirit and attitude we look for, plus she's such a fox."

That spirit is woven throughout Lannon's story.

She returned to West Friendship Elementary just four weeks after surgery, during which doctors removed six inches of her large intestine, her right ovary and fallopian tube, and 15 lymph nodes.

For nine months she continued her thrice-weekly chemotherapy treatments at school by wearing an infusion pump in a bulky waist pack that was connected to a port, a semi-permanent opening under her left collarbone through which medicine was delivered.

"I needed everyone to see that life goes on, and I needed them to believe that I was OK," she said.

Even now, 10 months after the end of treatment, Lannon says she's still trying to come to grips with her ordeal. During the first year of recovery, patients are most likely to suffer a recurrence of cancer or to find it has spread to other organs, she said. Lannon says she won't begin to relax until December, the one-year anniversary of her final treatment, and won't be considered in remission until she has passed the five-year mark.

"Being Miss March and getting to know the other models has meant more to me than I can explain," Lannon said.

She has also experienced an outpouring of support from teachers and staff within the county school system, many of whom she didn't previously know.


Is there a noteworthy person or event in your neighborhood? Contact Neighbors columnist Janene Holzberg at or 410-461-4150.

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