WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Tonye Gray wasn't fooling herself. She knew that because she started smoking at 16 years old, and was smoking a pack a day, that lung cancer could be in her future.
Nevertheless, Gray continued smoking and essentially took her chances before seeing something at a health fair one day that didn't just catch her attention - it likely saved her life.
"I was at the mall because I was working and just started going through the booths at the health fair and just happened to glance up and there was signage there for lung cancer screening, which I had never heard of," Gray said.
Gray, a marketing executive who has lost family members to lung cancer, was at the health fair with clients. She talked to an oncologist there and shared why she might be interested in having her lungs tested.
"And shared the fact that I had been smoking since my teen years, and she said, 'You'd be a perfect candidate,'" said Gray, a mother of two who comes from a long line of physicians including her father and sister.
Due to her demanding work schedule, Gray said a couple months went by with no more discussion about the screening, but she said something kept nagging her.
"It was just, I don't know how to say it," Gray said. "It was like a cloud that just stayed over my head or top of mind or however you want to say it that said, 'You need to do this.'"
So she did.
The test showed a small spot on one of her lungs so her doctor ordered a pet scan, which "lit up like a Christmas tree," Gray said.
There was no questioning what had to happen next. Doctors removed the cancerous part of her lung, and they said it was caught so early it could be removed laparoscopically so she wouldn't need chemotherapy or radiation.
"I think what was so reassuring to me was that everyone kept saying because we caught it so early, it wasn't life threatening," Gray said.
Within two weeks, she was back at work.
Gray said she is forever grateful she saw the sign that day in the mall and she hopes other people, especially smokers, will get screened early.
"I feel very blessed that I saw it," she said. "If you've smoked, if you've been around smoke, it is a small price to pay that can save your life."