Laurie Codding proudly says that she was Florida's first female plumbing contractor in the 1980s.
The 53-year-old former Bradenton resident -- she lived off Cortez Road in the 1990s and now lives in Venice -- says being a plumber with all its bending, lifting and stretching made her so strong and healthy that people would ask her what gymnasium she worked out in.
"I was often mistaken for a body builder," Codding said with a laugh a few days ago. "I would tell people, 'I work out in the gym of hard work.' "
Now, years later, Codding believes her fitness has allowed her to have another claim to fame.
She is in a remarkable remission from one of the most unique cases of cancer her doctor, Steven Mamus, has ever seen, involving cancer spreading from her breast to her eyes and throughout her body.
Her remission has allowed her to walk out of a hospice and now enjoy a full life.
Codding didn't think twice about the tiny void in her vision she was experiencing in 2011, like there was a little disc in her right eye that wasn't getting any picture.
She had no other physical symptoms.
But while trying to fix a sprinkler head at The Oaks golf course in Osprey one day, she suddenly couldn't see at all out of her right eye.
Codding later found out the vision problem was cancer of the retina.
Mamus, medical director of the Cancer Center of Sarasota and Manatee on 3501 Cortez Road, has been seeing patients for 29 years and said he had never seen the first symptom of breast cancer reveal itself as a vision problem.
"For patients with breast cancer to have eye involvement at all is 0.03 percent," Mamus said recently. "But to have a patient whose first symptom of breast cancer is the eye, well, I've never seen it in my career."
Codding's bones were sprinkled with lesions of cancer that were "too numerous to inventory," according to the doctor who read her CT scan.
Codding had cancer in both retinas, one optic nerve, her thyroid, clavicle, lymph nodes, bones, spine, ribs, one lung and liver.
She was given five to eight months to live.
But Codding said she had three secret weapons -- Mamus' drug toolbox, no high blood pressure or diabetes and a desire to fight.
"I still wasn't scrawny," Codding said. "Nothing else was wrong with me. It seems like every drug they gave me worked because they didn't have to interact with other drugs."
Mamus created a che
motherapy cocktail especially for Codding that included a daily 3,000MG dose of Xeloda and a low dose of Gemzar, administered through an IV port, he said.
"Laurie was able to take the oral drug, Xeloda, in high doses because of her fitness, which really helped," Mamus said. "Her cancer has disappeared. Everything is dead or scar tissue."
Codding's case should be an inspiration to others, Mamus said.
"I think Laurie's case provides hope," Mamus said. "Here's a case where so much is going on. It would seem that the patient should die in months. Some do, but the majority don't anymore and can last for years."
"Our goal now is to turn something life threatening, like what Laurie has, into a chronic illness," Mamus added.
Codding is loving life and being Mamus's famous patient.
"I feel great," Codding said a few days ago.
"I can't do quite as much as I would like because I don't have the blood-making cells in my bones that most people do so I get a little tired. But I walk to get my groceries, do cooking and I can talk on the phone for hours.
"Hospice won't let me go because of my background," Codding added, with a chuckle.
"I am still considered a terminal patient. They keep me in a transition program. We keep in touch."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.