She Thought She Was Just a Little Plump—but She Actually Had a 140-Pound Tumor

The tumor had been growing for about 16 years.

Courtesy Lehigh Valley Health Network

Like many people, Mary Clancey started gaining a bit of weight as she grew older. She’d always managed to stay trim, even after having two babies, but after she hit 45, the pounds began to pack on.

By age 71, the St. Clair, Pennsylvania, woman tried everything to lose weight. She stopped nibbling samples at her fudge-making job in Boscov’s. She went off the blood thinners and high-carb diet that she thought might be behind it. She took weight-loss supplements. She exercised. She tried diet after diet.

Nothing worked.

“As time went by, the potbelly just kept moving along,” Clancey told the Washington Post. “I just started getting short, round, and fat.”

By the time she was 365 pounds, she’d accepted her fate to be like the other “roly-poly women” in her family, she tells the Washington Post. (If you’re struggling with your weight, try these exercise-free weight-loss tricks.)

Clancey’s weight became the least of her concerns as her health suddenly started going downhill. Gardening became harder, and soon even walking and standing were winding her. She could barely get two words out before stopping for breath. “Then one day I couldn’t get out of bed,” Clancey says in a video from Lehigh Valley Health Network. “My son said, ‘Let’s call an ambulance and take you out of here.’”

At the hospital, doctors found out Clancey’s weight gain wasn’t just some extra fat. It was a massive ovarian tumor.

“The CAT scan was done, which is like permanently engrained in my mind, of a mass that was so big it didn’t even fit in the picture of the scanner,” surgical oncologist Richard Boulay, MD, says in the video.

Courtesy Lehigh Valley Health NetworkBigger tumors actually tend to be less aggressive, Dr. Boulay says. Ovarian cancer symptoms can be notoriously vague, so it’s hard to catch early. Clancey’s cancer hadn’t spread anywhere else in her body, but the cyst was pushing against her organs, veins, and arteries. Doctors guess she’d had it for about 16 years, but letting it go any longer could have been life threatening.

But removing a tumor that size posed its own complications. “One of the tenets to cancer surgery is when you take out a mass, you don’t want to pop it,” Dr. Boulay says in the video. “This is mostly fluid with a rind around it. So how can I get this out safely, weighing as much as it does and it’s slippery?” Plus, even if he could get a firm grasp, this one would be way too big to just hand to a nurse.

Dr. Boulay’s solution was to use two operating tables: one for Clancey, and the other for the tumor. Instead of lifting the tumor, he would roll it onto the table so it could be wheeled away.

The tumor turned out to be 140 pounds, leaving Clancey’s body hollow where it used to be. A plastic surgeon removed 40 pounds of excess skin. By the time everything was over, Clancey was 180 pounds lighter.

“For four days after that surgery, I can’t describe it. It felt like something was empty. My body didn’t feel right,” Clancey tells WNEP. “I guess I was so used to carrying that weight that I felt totally different.”

Clancey needed to use a walker for balance while getting used to her new frame, but says she can’t wait to get back to gardening and shopping with her friends. “This is my happy ending,” she tells the Morning Call. “Everything turned out all right.”

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Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.