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Choosing Joy: LaGrange native won’t let cancer diagnosis define her life

Editor’s note: This is the third part in a series on breast cancer survivors.

LaGrange native and breast cancer survivor Lisa Moody said she tries to choose joy on a daily basis. Even when she participated in the 10-mile walk for the Paint the Town Pink/ H.O.P.E. for a Day event, her team’s name was Team Choose Joy.

Moody said she based the name off of her favorite Bible verse 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” One of her friends even painted the verse for her, which hangs on her living room’s wall next to another painting that says “choose joy.”

“I think the cancer diagnosis definitely helps you put everything in life in perspective,” Moody said.

Moody was diagnosed with early stage intraductal carcinoma in 2003 and went through surgeries and a mastectomy.

“After all the surgeries, everything seemed to be doing well,” Moody said. “I would go back for yearly checkups and everything was fine. I remember [the doctor] five years out (from my diagnosis) saying ‘you had breast cancer, you don’t have breast cancer so go live your life, but you still just follow and get checked out every year.’”

In 2013, Moody noticed some hard lumps and went to the doctors to get it checked out. After going through mammograms and ultrasounds, it was determined that her cancer had returned and metastasized to her bones.

Moody’s cancer returned at stage 4, which is the most advanced stage of breast cancer. Moody said at the time of her diagnosis, she had just returned to teaching that year at LaGrange Academy and her four children were all in school, from elementary age through college.

Moody’s treatment for metastatic breast cancer included hormonal therapy since her cancer is hormone positive and estrogen and progesterone makes the cancer grow.

“With that diagnosis, they don’t do chemo right away. I didn’t have chemo the first time right around. [The doctor] said we wouldn’t start out with that, kind of last treatment,” Moody said. “So, all of my treatments focused around getting the estrogen out of your body so that it’s not there to feed the cancer.”

According to the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, 20 to 30 percent of people diagnosed with early stages of breast cancer will develop metastatic cancer.

“I guess you think about reoccurrence but you don’t realize ‘oh that might imply the stage 4 diagnosis,” Moody said. “There’s not a cure for metastatic, but there’s lots of treatments that work on keeping it at bay or shrinking tumors.”

Moody said currently her bones are not showing signs of cancer. She still gets hormone injections, injections to make her bones stronger to prevent cancer growth and injections for medically induced menopause because she was first diagnosed with cancer when she was 36.

“Once you’ve been diagnosed with metastatic, [the doctors] never say that you’re cured because they don’t know if there’s cancer cells floating around,” Moody said. “… And when you’re diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, they never say you’re in remission, they don’t say you’ve been cured. A lot of times they’ll say things like ‘there’s no evidence of active disease.’”

After being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, Moody said she scaled back to part time as a teaching assistant for LaGrange Academy’s pre-k program.

“Through all of this, breast cancer is part of my life, but I don’t want it to define my life and that be all people see when they look at me,” Moody said. “I’m a teacher. I’m a mom, a wife, daughter and all those things too.”

Moody said her husband, Leon, has been the best support and caregiver for her, and the LaGrange Academy faculty and administration have been helpful.

Moody said right now she is doing great, even after dealing with recent lymphedema in her arm from a surgery and a bout of cellulitis.

“I’m doing great, but there are so many people out there who are struggling,” Moody said. “A lot of the online support groups that I am in, there are people who are passing away, there are people who are having a lot harder time who aren’t doing as well.”

Moody’s advice for those diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer is to be proactive, keep on top of appointments and get support from family and friends. Moody said several online support groups have grown that are focusing on metastatic breast cancer.