Throughout her career, Laronica Conway has dedicated herself to the mission of delivering victories, whether inside the nation’s largest roaring arenas and stadiums or inside the hushed private waiting areas of a medical center.

Conway is a research study coordinator at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB. Her role includes serving as a liaison between patients and physicians.

“Before COVID-19, I would meet with the patients before their doctors’ visits. I would find out more from them than the doctors would,” Conway said with a laugh. “You could not have told me when I was working the Final Four and going to the SEC Championship that I would be doing this.”

Conway’s path to UAB is an unlikely one.

“There was a purpose and a reason behind all of it,” she said.

Laronica Conway (left) attends a cousin's wedding with her mother, Lillie Conway (right), before she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011. (Photo submitted)Laronica Conway (left) attends a cousin's wedding with her mother, Lillie Conway (right), before she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011. (Photo submitted)

Conway moved to Birmingham in 2003 to become Southeastern Conference assistant commissioner for championships and sports administration. Her position put her in the middle of storied college rivalries, a dream for any sports fan.

Her mother, Lillie Conway, sat in the stands as her daughter helped to direct the action. The senior Conway even shared some moments with then-SEC Commissioner Mike Slive.

Games aside, it was a medical crisis that presented a real-life challenge for Conway. Her mother was diagnosed with Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer in 2008.

By the time the cancer had spread to her mother’s brain in 2011, Conway knew it was time to make a change from the hustle of sports management. She then moved back to her hometown in Louisiana to help care for her mother.

“I got to the point where my soul needed something else,” she explained.

Her mother’s death in 2012 solidified Conway’s new purpose. She began volunteering and learning more about cancer, particularly lung cancer.

She took to her blog to write about her loss, just a month after her mother’s death.

“Now, it’s up to me to continue the legacy. I hope to be able to assist with research or contribute what I’ve learned in this short time.,” Conway wrote. “Mom played her part. Now it’s time for me to play mine.”

“I had become comfortable in my career in college athletics, but was I making an impact?” she asked on her blog. “Was I doing what God had intended for me to do?”

Laronica Conway (left), American Lung Association CEO Harold Wimmer (center) and Deana Hendrickson (right) attend the ALA's first-ever Lung Force event in Washington, D.C., before Conway was named a Lung Force Hero for Alabama in 2016. (Photo submitted)Laronica Conway (left), American Lung Association CEO Harold Wimmer (center) and Deana Hendrickson (right) attend the ALA's first-ever Lung Force event in Washington, D.C., before Conway was named a Lung Force Hero for Alabama in 2016. (Photo submitted)

Conway continued her advocacy work as a co-founder of Lung Cancer Social Media Chat, or #LCSM for short. The group was created to provide education and support for lung cancer.

In 2017, Conway finally traded in her lanyard and VIP passes for a set a hospital scrubs and a new position at UAB as a research study coordinator.

“My whole view of life changed after my mom died. I didn’t know what the path looked like,” Conway said. “All I knew is I wanted to help people who couldn’t help themselves.”

Conway is also active locally with the American Lung Association through which she became the first person to represent the state of Alabama at the first ALA Lung Force event. In 2016, she was named a Lung Force Hero for Alabama and spoke to members of Congress in Washington, D.C.

“I cried the first night I got to town,” Conway recalled. “A trip to ask for more funding for lung cancer? Who would have thought? I went again in 2018 and, again, was blown away.”

Like other families affected by cancer, Conway requires no written talking points to explain the pain of the disease. She remains passionate about lung cancer awareness, education and screening efforts roughly eight years after her mother’s death.

Former SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and Lillie Conway pose for a photo behind the scenes at the 2011 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo submitted)Former SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and Lillie Conway pose for a photo behind the scenes at the 2011 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo submitted)

“I probably go overboard because I want to know everything about these people,” Conway said of her patient advocacy. “I explain things in a way that that get it, because I didn’t go to med school. It takes me back to my mom when she had someone help her understand things.”

Conway and her former colleague, Mike Slive, both left the SEC to become advocates for cancer awareness and education. Slive, the longtime commissioner of the SEC, would later co-found and lend his name to a foundation dedicated to prostate cancer awareness, research and screening.  

Slive continued his prostate cancer awareness work until his death from the disease in 2018. Just as the Mike Slive Foundation for Prostate Cancer Research continues on his behalf, Conway continues her work for lung cancer patients as a tribute to her mother.

“I can’t even put into words what my mom would say,” Conway said of her mother, a former guidance counselor. “Her whole thing in life was to show people that they could do more than they ever imagined. I’m pretty sure she would be proud of me. There is nothing that I can’t handle now.”

Learn more about lung cancer treatment and prevention at UAB.


This story originally ran in the November 2020 issue of Community Connections, the monthly newsletter of the Office of Community Outreach & Engagement at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB.