When she started the paperwork to try to get Medicaid, the grand total of her medical bills was $47,000.
By the time she finished sharing every detail of her struggles on paper, the total was $60,000.
Brenda Moore, 53, doesn’t have health insurance.
She hasn’t been working since she began treatment for the breast cancer she was diagnosed with this spring. She also got divorced since her treatment began.
Aggressive Stage 2 cancer in left breast, smaller different kind of cancer in right breast
Five biopsies, eight rounds of chemotherapy, double mastectomy and six weeks of radiation.
How cancer changed me
I have always been caring, but now I look at people with different eyes. When they are facing sickness, I am more understanding. I can relate. It opened my eyes more, and I am more sympathetic.
What cancer taught me
To take better care of myself. To change my eating habits, and eat more fruits and vegetables. It made me more aware of the chemicals in our food and processed food, since they didn’t want me to eat it while I was in treatment.
What advice I would give someone just diagnosed
Find support and get people behind you. That’s what gets you through it. You can’t get through it by yourself.
Friends, family and even her doctors tell Moore not to worry about the stack of bills piling up in her home and the numbers those pieces of paper add up to. She isn’t supposed to fret about how to pay for the $300 pills she took to stop her from vomiting during chemotherapy or the four $2,500 shots she took to boost her immune system before starting treatment.
Shortly before having a double mastectomy, Moore wondered if she would be able to afford to have the reconstructive surgery she wanted, or if she should put that part off with the hope of lowering her medical bills.
“I’ve always wanted the reconstruction. But with the insurance issues, I am considering not doing it. Your boobs don’t make you who you are. If that’s what I have to do, I’m OK with it,” Moore said.
But finally, she just stopped worrying.
The hospital assured her she could get help with her bills. And she decided she would put her energy into getting better.
Moore, 53, found a lump in her breast a few months after a routine physical. She wasn’t supposed to have her annual mammogram for a few months but called her doctor to get in sooner.
Cancer runs in her family. Her mother had breast cancer. Her grandmother had it twice and eventually died from it once the cancer spread to her blood, she said.
When her daughter told her she had found a lump, Judy Stephens encouraged her to get to the doctor and get it checked out.
Stephens knew what her daughter was going through because she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 while caring for her own mother, who was dying from cancer.
But Moore was still stunned at the diagnosis. She had been healthy, exercised and ate well.
“I had always kept in the back of my mind that I could get it, but I was still shocked,” she said.
She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Stage 2 breast cancer in her left breast. After doctors began testing, they found a smaller, different cancer in her right breast.
She had five biopsies, eight rounds of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy.
She wound up in the hospital with a staph infection in her arm and when she had an allergic reaction to her chemotherapy treatment.
One of the most difficult times was wondering how much the cancer had spread after she was diagnosed, and how much had gotten into her lymph nodes, her family said.
“Not knowing scared me more than the treatment, not knowing if they would get it all,” her son Zachery Moore said.
But during surgery, doctors found only a small portion had gotten into her lymph nodes. Still, Brenda Moore worries it will come back.
“I think about it all the time. Are they going to get it all? Is it some place else in my body?” she said.
“Every time something happens, you’re going to think the cancer went somewhere else.”
She thinks about chemotherapy and having all those chemicals in her body, her fingers and toes feeling numb, food not tasting right anymore.
Then she can’t help but be worried about the costs again.
Moore hadn’t been able to pay anything toward the costs of her treatment because she didn’t have any money coming in. She already struggled just to pay her rent, utilities and grocery bills, she said.
Friends and family chipped in to help with bills and are working to organize a fundraiser for her. She has called the hospital billing office every so often to update them on her application for Medicaid and to let them know she wasn’t ignoring them.
Getting cancer forced Moore to apply for assistance for the first time in her life, applying for Medicaid and Social Security disability, she said.
Her whole adult life she has worked to pay her own bills and expenses. But now, she can’t. And that hurts, she said.
“It’s not that I’m prideful. It’s just embarrassing,” Moore said.
But Moore tries to keep a positive outlook, making jokes and doing her best to stop herself from moping about what she is dealing with.
“It’s what was put on my plate. I just have to deal with it,” Moore said.
She has cried, she has been mad, she has asked “why me.” But then she realizes other people have it worse than her, she said.
And who is she going to be angry at anyway, she said.
Her attitude is one of the traits her friends and family love about her.
Zachery Moore, 25, has watched his mother struggle with her finances. And he has done all he could to help, including helping her with her rent and making sure she has food.
He knows accepting that help from her son hasn’t been easy.
“She understands she has to, and she has been very appreciative,” he said.
Watching his mother go through cancer — the diagnosis, treatment and surgery — has been a difficult process for him, too. He has found his own ways to stay positive, including viewing the double mastectomy as the top of the mountain, the end of the difficult climb and the point where treatment gets easier, he said.
And he believes the diagnosis has brought him and his mother even closer together, he said. Cancer has even brought him closer to his grandmother, Stephens, who has helped care for Brenda Moore during treatment.
Having friends and family close was important for recovery, Brenda Moore said.
She was annoyed at times after surgery when her mother and son would not let her stay home alone, not even for a night. But she was also grateful, she said.
“You need that support for the days you want to give up,” Brenda Moore said.
They believe their role is to encourage her, support her and pray with her, Stephens said.
She has had her rough days, when she questions why she got cancer and is struggling financially. But most days, she needs little encouragement, her friend Lena Earl said. Earl has gone with Brenda Moore to every chemotherapy treatment.
Earl has lost six brothers and a sister to cancer, and she knows how much worse it can get. Seeing how well Brenda Moore is doing helps her, she said.
Brenda Moore calls the diagnosis a “bump in the road.” And she takes each step as it comes.
After she lost her hair during chemotherapy, she let children color her bald head, her mother said.
“It’s bad, but I’ll get through it. I’m here. I’m alive,” Brenda Moore said.
“I’m not tough. There’s just not a thing I can do about it.”