Nurse Practice Manager of Thoracic Surgery and Nursing Director of the Lung Cancer Screening Program, Mercy Medical Center: Age 38
Ashley LeBlanc says it’s “weird to be happy when you find cancer.”
But that’s certainly one of the emotions she experiences when a patient screened for lung cancer is given that heavy dose of bad news.
That’s because, quite often, that cancer is found early, in stage 1 or 2, when it is much more survivable than when found later. Indeed, lung cancer is the deadliest cancer, and finding it early is critical to winning one’s battle against it.
And LeBlanc certainly knows that. She has lost four relatives to lung cancer, several of whom would have qualified for screening had it been available at the time of their diagnosis.
“That’s why this work is so rewarding,” said LeBlanc, who earned associate degrees in both health sciences and criminal justice at Holyoke Community College, but eventually chose a career in healthcare; she has earned an associate degree in nursing from Springfield Technical Community College and a bachelor’s degree from Westfield State University, and is currently working on her master’s in executive nursing leadership at Chamberlain University.
“I’ve loved every second of it,” she said of her work in nursing, adding that she was eventually recruited by physicians in the Thoracic Surgery unit, where she now serves in her dual role. In addition to overseeing the department, she has been instrumental in creating a Lung Cancer Screening Program (LCSP) that has been designated a Screening Center of Excellence.
That program has screened more than 12,000 people since it was created in 2016, and identified cancer in more than 200 of them. In two-thirds of those cases, it was found in stage 1 or 2, which takes us back to where we started — that sensation of being happy to find cancer.
LeBlanc’s passion for lung-cancer treatment and screening is evidenced by her extensive work in the community. She has served as the nurse planner for the American Lung Association’s annual LUNG FORCE education events in Springfield and East Hartford, and spearheaded the creation of the first Springfield LUNG FORCE event after learning there were few lung-cancer continuing-education opportunities for local providers. Prior to the pandemic, she coordinated an annual fundraiser for Mercy’s LCSP to provide ‘scholarships’ for individuals who could not afford a screening.
“It’s so fulfilling to know that others may be spared the heartache of that loss through early detection and a wider variety of treatment options,” she said of her work. “It’s what keeps me going.”