October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month — and it’s the perfect opportunity for women to make sure they’re up-to-date on preventative care. Jeri Moyes, of Lima, knows from experience the importance of breast exams and mammograms. That’s because after putting them off for years, she discovered a large lump on her breast by chance. Now, she wants to get the message out to others: Schedule those screenings.
“I remember like it was yesterday,” Moyes said. “On May 3 of 2015, I was getting ready for bed and I was laying in bed. I didn’t have a bra on, and I just had to reach for something that was on my night stand. When I turned over, my arm was kind of tucked under my breast a little bit, and I felt something strange. So I lifted my arm up and I felt around, and there was this huge lump under my breast. I had even taken a shower that morning and I don’t know how I didn’t find it then.”
The very next day, Moyes went to see her doctor. However, he didn’t seem too worried. “He thought that it was just maybe an infected milk duct or something like that,” she said, of the lump in her left breast. “I went and had a mammogram and they still didn’t know what it was. So I had an ultrasound.”
After that ultrasound, a biopsy was taken of the lump. Her worst fears were confirmed.
Moyes was diagnosed on May 26, 2015, at age 40, with ductal carcinoma in situ: Cancer of her milk duct. This the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer, according to Breastcancer.org.
“I had to have an MRI after my diagnosis and they found something else in my other breast,” Moyes added. “I had to have another biopsy, which turned out to be nothing. So thank God for that.”
Moyes ended up having a lumpectomy in late June. Following that, she had to go in for a re-excision and lymph nodes removal due to the discovery of a 5-millimeter-sized spot of invasive, triple-negative cancer.
According to Breastcancer.org, the term “triple-negative” means growth of the cancer is “not supported by the hormones estrogen and progesterone, nor by the presence of too many HER2 receptors.” This means that triple-negative breast cancer doesn’t respond to hormonal therapy, or to therapies that target HER2 receptors. Because of her triple-negative results, Moyes ended up having to go through four rounds of chemotherapy.
“Had it been a little bit bigger, I would have had to have more than that,” she explained. “But it was only a small one, so I only had to have four. After that, I had 16 radiation treatments. The whole thing took about eight months.”
Moyes said she was one of the lucky ones when it came to the side effects of treatment. Although she did end up losing her hair and felt sick, she was able to remain working full time.
“I wasn’t scared but I had a couple of scary moments,” she said. “In my second round of chemo, I had a reaction when they pushed it through a little too fast and I couldn’t breathe. Following that treatment, I had a bleeding issue that sent me to the ER.”
Moyes officially went into remission in January 2016. Since then, she has followed up her doctor every six months for checkups and blood work, to make sure everything is still looking good.
Surviving breast cancer — while obviously scary at times and physically draining — has taught Moyes about her own strength, she explained. “I have learned a lot,” she said. “You learn what you’re made of. You definitely learn how strong you are. You learn all of the people that love you. Because I had an army of support; I didn’t have to worry about anything.”
Moyes’ changed perspective also spilled over into other areas of her life; after beating breast cancer, she ultimately decided to switch gears in her career.
“Honestly, it kind of pushed me into doing something different with my life,” she said. “I had been working at the Kewpee for 15 years. And I thought, you know what — I don’t think God brought me through cancer to keep flipping burgers for the rest of my life. It raised my kids, it bought me a house; I don’t have anything bad to say about there. But I was just ready for something else. So now I work at a mental health and behavioral hospital, and I’m attending online classes to become a licensed independent social worker. So it changed my life for the good, honestly.”
Her secret to staying positive in the midst of cancer treatment? The “best medicine,” of course.
“What actually got me through this was my faith, my family and friends, and a really good sense of humor,” Moyes, now 43, said. “It’s like they say with anything — laughter really is the best medicine.”
With no history of breast cancer in her immediate family, Moyes said her diagnosis came as a total shock.
“It completely caught me off guard,” she said. “The closest cancer we have in my family is my grandfather on my dad’s side, he had a small spot of lung cancer … so it was a surprise.”
Up until the point when she discovered the lump at home, Moyes said she hadn’t done self breast exams, had never had a mammogram and hadn’t even been to her gynecologist in six years. Now, she hopes other women don’t make the same mistake.
“I was actually very lucky that it happened the way it did,” she said. “So if I can say anything about all of this, be diligent with all of your preventative health care, especially your breast exams. Because I just got lucky. And I don’t want anybody else to be lucky; I want them to be diligent.”