July 12

Alex Brockman
May 10, 2015 - 6:31 PM EDT
Last Updated: May 10, 2015 - 9:48 PM EDT

Meeting Laura Mantovan for the first time, it’d be tough to guess she has stage-four lung cancer.

Dressed in a black T-shirt with the words “fighting cancer with class” written across the front, Mantovan bounced among her 30 or so supporters at the Hospice LifeWalk on Saturday morning.

According to organizers, an estimated 350 to 400 people attended the walk, designed to show support for those living with a life-altering illness and celebrate the memories of those who’ve died.

Participants were provided with a racing bib with a spot for writing the name of the person they were walking for. Some had personal messages: “For my daughter” or “For my wife,” while others simply wrote “Everybody.”

Mantovan’s life changed on Jan. 23, 2015.

The 53-year-old mother of two started experiencing shortness of breath during her daily five-kilometre walks with friends. Although a series of tests showed she had clear lungs and strong breath, a CT scan revealed blood clots in her lungs.

Mantovan has stage-four lung cancer, called non small-cell carcinoma. This type of cancer is the most common form of lung cancer, representing about 80-90 per cent of cases, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

She doesn’t blame any one particular factor in getting cancer, noting she grew up near Chemical Valley in Sarnia and is a former smoker.  She credits her doctors for acting fast, getting her into the cancer clinic and setting up her treatment.

“It didn’t give me a lot of time to think about it,” she said. “I thought ‘I’m going to kick cancer’s ass.’ I won’t go down crying and bitter. I’m going to fight this. I’m a happy person and this is how I’ll tackle this.”

“My husband kept thinking ‘it could be three months or six months,’ and I kept saying ‘it could be three years, it could be six years or it could be 30 or 60 years,” she said.

At Saturday’s walk, her friends and family were sporting the same black “Cancer with Class” T-shirts. Mantovan said the name comes from a newsletter she writes, providing her loved ones with information about her progress.

“I’m here to support my wife Laura and support the great work that Hospice is doing,” Laura’s husband Marco Mantovan said.

Their daughter Melissa was there, as was Laura’s sister Brenda Darisi and mother Milena Darisi, both of whom travelled from Sarnia to be there. Laura’s other daughter Trisha Mantovan lives in Montreal and couldn’t make it to Windsor.

“The people around me were amazing,” Laura said. “They’ve made my fight a little easier and my will to fight that much stronger. It’s really touching to see, first of all how many people wanted to walk with me and the generosity of their donations.”

She said her supporters raised about $10,000 all together, which made some of the organizers think there was a glitch in the tracking system.

As one of six main fundraising events Hospice Windsor-Essex puts on each year, the LifeWalk was expected to raise $150,000.

“People are walking for their loved ones, maybe they’ve lost someone, or maybe it’s for someone still fighting,” said Laura Lemmon, the community engagement and events supervisor of Hospice Windsor-Essex.

Their fundraising goal was buoyed by a $30,000 donation to Hospice’s spiritual care program. It’s a non-denominational service offered to patients and their families to help them through an illness, Lemmon said.

Laura Mantovan credits Hospice’s unwavering support for helping her and said she was at the walk to give back to the organization.

“Hospice is amazing,” she said. “They’re with you from the beginning, middle, and end.”

After her initial diagnosis and treatment, going through a period that was a “little bit rough” Laura Mantovan said she feels much better. Her three-month checkup showed her tumours were shrinking and everything pointed to good signs.

She’s back to walking every day and said she plans to go back to work as a food-service cashier at the University of Windsor in September.

“I have a guardian angel, obviously, on my shoulder,” she said. “Never give up on yourself. Think strong and be strong.”

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tags: lifewalk for the hospice, laura mantovan, cancer with class