Meeting and talking with Carmen Moore is a two-for-one deal – it’s rare you’ll find her without Phil, the love of her life and husband of 33 years. The 62-year-old retirees share typical traits of a couple who’ve happily spent well over half their lives together, finishing one another’s sentences, and liberally lacing deep laughter throughout their conversations. They offer a double dose of a positive attitude and humble gratitude for their life together, raising three boys, through good times and bad.
It was November 2009 when they found themselves preparing to weather through what looked to be one of the bad times—a routine mammogram revealed that Carmen had breast cancer.
Because she had a family history of breast cancer, doctors had recommended when she turned 30 that she have a mammogram every year. “She never missed a mammogram,” says Phil. “And she always did regular breast exams herself.”
When her physician asked Carmen to come back in for a recheck after her yearly procedure in 2009, Carmen and Phil weren’t concerned. “I’ve had a lymph node in my left breast they’ve rechecked nearly every year,” says Carmen, “and it always checked out fine.” What the Moores didn’t know until they went back for the recheck this time was that the problem was in her right breast.
After another mammogram and a biopsy that same day, results three days later confirmed her physician’s suspicion.
“They gave us a plan”
Carmen’s doctor delivered good news with the diagnosis, however. Although the cancer was in her milk ducts and had spread, requiring a mastectomy, it wasn’t an aggressive form and they had caught it early. The Moores were also comforted by the fact Carmen’s physician, Barbara Savader, MD, was a breast cancer survivor herself, so when she asked if they had a doctor they wanted to see for treatment, they tapped into her experience as a patient. “We said, ‘You’re a survivor; who did you see?’ That’s who we wanted,” says Carmen.
That led them to Patricia Kennedy, MD, an IU Health breast surgeon, one of three IU Health North Hospital physicians who would be part of Carmen’s treatment team. Jennifer Morgan, MD, an oncologist, would oversee Carmen’s chemotherapy and Michael Sadove, MD, a plastic surgeon, would perform breast reconstruction after Carmen’s mastectomy.
“One of the things we really liked about IU Health is that they sat down and explained everything to both of us. They drew diagrams and made it very clear,” says Carmen. Phil adds, “They gave us a survivorship plan. We were able to make an informed decision.”
Carmen and Phil viewed her mastectomy on January 7 as a positive way to kick off 2010—she was on the road to becoming a breast cancer survivor. Although the surgery went well, they admit the road got rocky. Carmen had always been susceptible to infection due to a weakened immune system. An expander put in place during her mastectomy to prepare her body for reconstruction had to be removed early when an infection developed.
Chemotherapy hit her particularly hard as well. “Because my immune system is weak I just bottomed out,” Carmen recalls. “I had nothing. I had to get shots to help bring my white cell count up.”
Treating more than the disease
She says it wasn’t just the shots that helped her feel better, though; the staff at IU Health North played a huge role.
“I went one day for one of my shots; I could barely walk. The nurse saw that and took me straight to a private room and started giving me fluids. She didn’t burden me with all the questions she needed to ask until I had care that could make me feel better,” says Carmen. “They know how to treat the whole patient. That’s the way they all are. You can’t get that everywhere.”
Over the next two years, Carmen underwent seven surgeries, including breast reconstruction and a reduction of her left breast—twice—thanks to a 70-pound weight loss. “My cancer was estrogen-based and fat is estrogen so I had to lose weight,” says Carmen. No surprise, Phil joined her in the supervised diet and exercise program that was part of Carmen’s survivorship plan. He added his own 95-pound loss.
Today their days are filled with the kinds of things you’d expect happy, healthy retirees to be up to: travel, golf, fishing, and family. They’ve also carved out time to serve on IU Health’s Patient-Family Advisory Council, a volunteer board of patients and families that provides IU Health administrators feedback about their experiences with IU Health.
“Everyone has their own story,” says Carmen, referring to other council members’ experiences. “Everyone at IU North took very good care of us. The total hospital experience is awesome,” she says. They see their involvement with the council as a way to give back. “We want everyone to feel like we do,” Carmen says.