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Debi's story: One woman's journey to becoming a cancer survivor

May 30, 2014

They are strong, inspiring and courageous. Giving up is not in their vocabulary. Despite the tremendous challenges they face, they’re the strongest people we know. They’re our friends, family, neighbors and coworkers. They are cancer survivors.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there are nearly 14 million cancer survivors in the United States alone. On June 1, 2014, we celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day to honor these courageous people and the strength they show in fighting cancer.

One woman who showed this incredible strength is Debi Moses. An Orlando resident and mother of three, Debi was diagnosed in November 2012 with stage 4 ovarian cancer. After undergoing several grueling surgeries and months of chemotherapy at the UF Health Cancer Center – Orlando Health, Debi’s cancer was declared in remission in June 2013. Now, just one year after entering into remission, Debi shares her powerful story with our own Dr. Diane Robinson:

Q: What emotions were you feeling when you received the diagnosis of stage 4 ovarian cancer?

I actually went into surgery not knowing for sure that’s what I had. There was suspicion that it might be cancer, but I wasn’t sure. In my head, I figured it was probably minor, and it would be resolved quickly. I thought I’d have the surgery and be done with it. But it wasn’t until I came out of surgery that I found out how advanced my cancer was. It was very shocking to learn how sick I was, but I truly had a lot of confidence in my doctor. I trusted her. I felt that we were a team, and I think that made a huge difference.

Q: What led you to choose the UF Health Cancer Center – Orlando Health as the place where you would receive your treatment?

It was actually my physician who recommended that I receive my treatment at the UF Health Cancer Center – Orlando Health. She felt very much that she had to get me in somewhere quickly and somewhere that was reputable. She didn’t want me to see just anyone. Fortunately, she knew about Dr. Schimp and was able to have her team at the Gynecologic Cancer Center see me.

During my treatment, my primary doctor was Dr. Anna Priebe, but there were times when the entire team played a role in my care. And, throughout my entire treatment, I never felt like I was getting second best — ever.

Q: How did the Cancer Support Community help your family as you were going through treatment?

When I first started my treatment, I wasn’t ready to get involved in the Community just yet. I was too deeply entrenched in going through the battle — but that being said, they did have a therapist who turned out to be incredibly valuable. I didn’t use her for myself — yet — but I took my daughter to see her.

My daughter, who was a sophomore in high school at the time, was the only child still living at home with me when I was diagnosed. It was an awful lot for her to go through alone. And I know one of the hardest things for her was how people in school were talking about it. So, what she focused on with the therapist was how to better handle the people in her life. It changed her. She was so much better after that.

Q: How did the Cancer Support Community help you transition from being a cancer patient to a cancer survivor?

Following my treatment, I was initially encouraged to go to a Teal Tuesdays event at the Gynecologic Cancer Center. So, I decided to go, and I think it was really helpful because it took you outside of the cancer itself, but it was still related.

And that’s where I learned about the Cancer Transitions class. At first, I didn’t think I was ready, but it was a really good thing that I did it.

The main goal of Cancer Transitions is to empower you, as a patient, to take over your care and live a healthy lifestyle. But I think the part that was most successful for me was talking to other cancer survivors. So, not only did I learn about what other people were going through, but it also helped me realize that my situation wasn’t the worst thing in the universe.

Q: What has your life been like since entering into remission?

One of the things that I find interesting is that people expect you to have an epiphany and start living an entirely new life. For me though, that isn’t what happened. It was the small things about me that changed. For example, I’m a very Type A, impatient person, and I think that has gotten better since I’ve gone through treatment.

For instance, I was at the airport recently, and there was an endless line. Before, I would’ve been going crazy, saying, “Come on, let’s go — let’s speed this up.” But this time, I was actually able to focus and say to myself, “You’ll either make the plane or you won’t make the plane. So what? It’ll all work out.” That’s not something I would’ve felt before, so I think that’s a big change for me.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to other women facing a cancer diagnosis?

I think that you have to put aside your fears as best you can. You can do this. I know it’s harder, physically, for some people than it is for others, but you have to focus and not listen to what the world is telling you. Just put your head down and push through it, and you can come out the other side. You can get through it.

Also, for the people like me who never want anyone to do anything for them, it’s important to ask for help. That was one of the hardest things for me. But it’s OK to ask for rides to chemo or accept the fact that your friends and coworkers want to cook for you. I learned to ask people for help, and no, it wasn’t comfortable, but they were so happy to do it. When people say, “Tell me what I can do for you,” — tell them — because you cannot do it all yourself. You have to let go and let others help.

Q: What does being a cancer survivor mean to you?

I think I’m still processing it, even though it’s been a year. It was a tough year when I was sick. It was like a war, and I was in the trenches, and I’m not fully out of that yet. But, between my mental focus and my physical ability to overcome this, I really am proud of myself. I am proud that I was able to get through this and survive it. My body is so much stronger than I ever knew it was.