October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Patient Praises Care Team, Grateful for Treatment Options

October 15, 2020

SHAWANO, Wis. – If you have the opportunity to spend a few minutes with Rita Moede, you’ll likely walk away feeling uplifted, inspired and grateful.

“I always keep a positive attitude,” she said. “Just take life one day at a time and try to be happy.”

That positive attitude helped her through difficult times over the past few years. In late 2018, the 64-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I found a pea size lump,” she recalled. “So I scheduled an appointment and had a biopsy. That’s when they told me it was triple-negative breast cancer.”

According to Dr. Alexander Starr, an Oncologist and Hematologist at the Regional Cancer Center who treated Moede, when a woman is diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, she does not express estrogen (ER) or progesterone (PR) receptors nor does she have over amplification of the HER2 gene that could be a target for monoclonal antibodies such as Herceptin.

“Triple-negative breast cancer accounts for about 10-15% of all breast cancers,” said Dr. Starr. “Triple-negative breast cancer can have the same signs and symptoms as other common types of breast cancer.”

Moede, who has three children and four grandchildren, explained while the diagnosis was difficult, she knew she had to fight.

“I have too much wonderful to live for,” she said. “I knew I needed to be here to see my grandchildren grow up.”

Moede’s treatment included chemotherapy and surgery. After that, she underwent novel chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Dr. Starr said she progressed through that treatment. It was then they began another chemotherapy and progressed again. After that, Dr. Starr recommended rounds of high-dose radiation. Teams tested Moede’s tumor and it was found to have a mutation in BRCA2 gene. Because of that mutation, Dr. Starr determined it was best to begin using PARP inhibitors, which are a type of targeted therapy that inhibit the PARP protein in cancer cells. PARP is responsible for repairing damaged DNA, and without repair, the tumor cells will die. Since these agents are so specific in the way that they work, they typically do not impact other cells in the body.

“After we began the PARP inhibitors, everything changed,” said Dr. Starr. “The advanced treatment that has improved over time is incredible. To think just a few years ago this treatment would not have been possible is encouraging for cancer care.”

Moede is still receiving treatment. She describes herself as treatable, not curable. She said she’s forever grateful to the care team in Shawano and the Regional Cancer Center.

“The team became like a new family,” she said. “They never treated me like a number, always a person. I cannot say enough about Dr. Starr and his team. They’re so friendly and loving.” 

Moede is a strong advocate for screenings and early detection. For her, breast cancer was a family journey, as her mother passed away from the same disease. And just one month after Rita was diagnosed, two of her sisters were also told they had breast cancer.

“It’s so important to know your family history,” she said. “At times, it can be scary, but stick with those recommended screenings.”

Experts recommend speaking with your provider about your risk for cancer and developing the best screening plan for you. The American Cancer Society offers these breast cancer screening recommendations:

  • Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so.
  • Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.
  • Some women – because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors – should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is very small.)
  • Talk with a health care provider about your risk for breast cancer and the best screening plan for you.

Again, Moede credits her outcome with a good attitude and help from loved ones.

“When I found out I had cancer and shared the news with my family and friends, I was overwhelmed with all the love and support,” she said. “My faith in God, and prayers from all over the country helped me. The outpouring of love, cards, ride offers, help with anything and everything was amazing. All I had to do was concentrate on getting better and staying positive.”

Now, the Shawano resident who finds joy in baking, is back in the kitchen. She is also celebrating the small moments that make her life wonderful. 

“I have always felt the love, kindness and warmth from everyone I have encountered during this journey,” she said. “I’m going to keep giving this old cancer a run for its money.”