A second first birthday
Stage IV ovarian cancer survivor Ann Moore is celebrating the one-year mark since she was declared cancer-free
Six months after her original cancer diagnosis, Ann Moore sat in a clinic exam room anticipating the results from her CT scan. In February 2015, she had received the last of 18 weeks worth of chemotherapy treatment for stage IV ovarian cancer, and now waited anxiously to hear if it had been effective.
The date of her appointment was March 11, which would have been her father’s 86th birthday had he not passed away the previous year. The doctor eventually came into the room to give her the news: Moore was officially disease-free.
“That’s my new birthday. It’s just amazing. So amazing,” Moore said, smiling, and added that it was by pure happenstance that the follow-up appointment occurred on March 11 after having been rescheduled from an earlier date.
Moore’s father passed away suddenly in April 2014, shortly after which Moore began experiencing gastrointestinal pains.
Because she shared such a close relationship with her father, and the fact that she commonly manifests emotional distress into intestinal complications, Moore associated her abdominal pains with grief.
But after persistent issues and multiple visits to several specialists, Moore went to the emergency room to receive a CT scan under the encouragement of her primary care doctor.
She described her pain at that point as if she had a basketball wedged in her upper abdomen that would not go away.
Moore was diagnosed with an advanced form of ovarian cancer, the symptoms of which are not easily identifiable, and by the time they are, the cancer has usually spread beyond the ovaries. Early symptoms include abdominal swelling or pain, pelvic pressure, difficulty eating and/or urinary symptoms; and prompt attention to these symptoms can improve the chances for early diagnosis and successful treatment.
In Moore’s case, she didn’t recognize any symptoms until the cancer had progressed, forcing her to undergo an emergency surgery. She had a total abdominal hysterectomy, which is the removal of the uterus and cervix through an incision in the abdomen.
Moore said she was initially in total disbelief because cancer did not run in her family, and she lived a healthy lifestyle.
Following the surgery, Moore’s surgeon recommended that she receive treatment at VCU Massey Cancer Center. And as fate would have it, her daughter, Whitney Burton, works there as a clinical social worker.
“I think I was meant to be at Massey. Whitney was the reason that I entered the doors because I think I would otherwise have stayed in Henrico, where I live. But as soon as I met my doctors, I knew that this was the right place to be. I was guided here. It wasn’t by coincidence,” Moore said.
At Massey, Moore received care under the direction of gynecologic oncologist Jori Carter, M.D., whom Moore considered a delightful person, but also respected for being honest and forthright about the circumstances she faced.
“Before we selected my method of treatment, Dr. Carter was very serious in explaining to me that while the cancer was treatable, the chances of recurrence remained considerably high,” Moore said.
“Prior to my diagnosis, I thought that stage IV cancer was a death sentence, and I had heard horror stories about chemotherapy, so I was not optimistic that I would get through it. I didn’t know that it was curable. After talking to the doctors, they gave me the encouragement and a positive message that I could get through this,” Moore said, specifically referencing clinical psychologist Tamara Orr, Ph.D., L.C.P., for giving her the courage to feel more comfortable during such a frightening time.
It was this recurring motif of harnessing a positive mindset, along with the unflinching support of her family and friends, that motivated Moore to push through her treatment. Her support base included around 1,000 followers on an online social media platform and a rosary reportedly blessed by Pope Francis himself.
Moore said that her first round of chemotherapy in October 2014 was surprisingly easy and, despite one setback that sent her to the emergency room, it was a relatively manageable process thanks to the quality of care and the medicine she was provided.
She used her work for SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. as a distraction, bringing her laptop into chemotherapy sessions and going into the office on days when she didn’t receive treatment. She also was working on a United Way campaign during her cancer treatment, and that was an additional mental reinforcement for her, knowing that she was working to help other people.
Now that her health has been restored, Moore thinks back on her father and how worried he used to get when one of his five daughters became ill with a cold.
“In a way, as odd as this may sound, his passing was a blessing because he could not have endured what I went through. It would have torn him apart. I believe that he was more help in my healing from his new home than he would have been on Earth,” she said.
“There really are no words to describe being told I was disease-free on his birthday. It’s a miracle of God..”
Moore remembers a dream she had in which she was walking and a flock of birds was flying directly above her. As she continued walking, she looked up and noticed that the flock veered off in a different direction, save for a lone bird that continued to fly over her.
Within days of her dream, Moore was driving in her car when she noticed that the exact same thing happened. A flock of birds flew directly over her car, and when the pack turned off into a separate direction, one bird remained flying along with her.
Moore believes that this was not by chance: her father’s name is Byrd.
“The message I got was that my dad was saying, ‘I will always be by your side,’” she said.
For Moore’s daughter Burton, her mother’s experience has strengthened the professional bond she has with her clinical work at Massey.
“Massey really is a great place. I don’t want anyone to ever need a cancer center, but if you do, this is where you need to be,” Burton said.
She found that it was especially difficult to care for patients while also caring for her mother at the same time, but the Massey community ultimately helped her endure through it.
“That’s where I really relied on the people here. The support here was amazing. I have friends here who will probably be with me for the rest of my life,” said Burton.
Moore has now been cancer-free for over a year, and her family held a cookout celebration for what she calls her “one-year birthday.”
For Mother’s Day, Moore and Burton visited the Isle of Palms, outside of Charleston, S.C., for a bachelorette gathering.
Both of Moore’s children are getting married this year, and she is more than elated to be able to have the opportunity to share these life-changing moments with her family.
For more information related to ovarian cancer, prevention tips and treatment options, visit the Massey website.