Mother uses sense of humor to deal with 6-year long battle with breast cancer

Miami Lakes mom says part of her toughest struggle was not allowing breast cancer to steal the joy of life from her family


MIAMI LAKES, Fla. – Mercy Moore lowered her voice to reveal a hush-hush comedic dilemma.

She didn't know whether to nickname her orthopedic surgeon "McDreamy" or "McSteamy." She giggled. It was an inside joke she had with her husband. 

The Miami Lakes breast cancer patient said she was recently waiting to see Dr. Jonathan Gottlieb in his office at the University of Miami Hospital, when men with chiseled bodies and defined jawlines surrounded her.

"I felt like I was in an episode of Grey's Anatomy," Moore, 48, said. "They were all really, really cute."

Moore and her husband, Rick Moore, laugh a lot more now. It felt good to be able to laugh again, she said. There were some dark months, as breast cancer tried to prevent them from finding humor in life, she said. Her breast cancer fight began six years ago.

The fit mother of two was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. The loves of her life -- her husband and her sons, Devin and Mason, now 14 and 12 -- have been wearing pink to show their support for years.

During her first battle, Moore had surgery to remove a breast, and she lost her hair during chemotherapy. Radiation therapy meant to kill cancer cells damaged her skin so severely that it ruptured, after a plastic surgeon attempted a reconstruction with a silicone breast implant.

The experience was terrifying.

"I was at work when I saw the blood," Moore said. "I ended up in the emergency room, and my surgeon had to remove the breast implant."

SLIDE SHOW | Moore family photos

Three years after her diagnosis, she was working out again. She was running and spinning. It was during a boot camp session that she began to feel a persistent pain. The cancer was back.

"I thought it was from working out," Moore said. "I tried to not let it stop me until I couldn't any more ...  I had an MRI and they found a 5 centimeter tumor in the sacrum."

The two-inch spinal metastatic tumor was pressing on her nerve roots. She had to stop working at Chase Bank, because the pain was unbearable. It threatened to leave her wheelchair bound.

"The second time was scarier for us," Moore said. "I became bitter. I had been dieting and exercising, but none of that helped. It just came back and here I was using the wheelchair. I was very upset ... and then to find out the tumor couldn't be removed."

At first, doctors focused on pain management. Percocet was first. Morphine followed. She was staying home. She was embarrassed of the weight gain. She was sad.

"Nothing was working," Moore said. "Then, I found Dr. Gottlieb."

Gottlieb, a UM medical school grad and former Jackson Memorial Hospital resident, met patients like Moore at the Charlotte Spine Center in North Carolina. He used a four-rod technique to stabilize the spine.

"He put in metal rods and that made a huge difference ... I barely use the cane," Moore said.

The cancer is incurable. The focus of her treatment is not on extending her life, but on improving its quality. Moore said she has learned to live with that.

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She is undergoing chemotherapy again. Dr. Alejandra Perez, of Memorial Breast Cancer Center in Hollywood, is prescribing the drug to keep the tumor from growing.

Besides pain relief, her treatment is also focused on preservation of neurological function, preventing fractures and correcting spinal instability.

The Moore family stands united and strong. They love Florida State University football, the Miami Dolphins, the Miami Heat and baseball. They love to travel and they love each other.

"It's about enjoying the quality of time, because quantity -- we don't know it," Moore said.  "No one does."

Moore dreams of being a part of as many of her sons' special moments as possible. By helping her stay away from a wheel chair, Gottlieb is part of the medical team that is helping her to accomplish that.

This week, Moore reached a conclusion on the comedic nickname dilemma.

"I think he [Gottlieb] should be McDreamy," she said. And then, she laughed. 

And thanks to her medical team, she said, she has been laughing a lot more lately.