At work in Maryland in the ’90s, Danna Moore was known as “the Bulldog.”
“If they had a problem they couldn’t fix, they’d bring it to me,” she said.
“I’d take a hold of it, and I’d shake it until it got fixed.”
She thrived on being the go-to person. Yet, that came at a personal cost: She never stopped to ask what she should be doing for herself.
Cancer threw Moore from that track.
“I, for the first time in 45 years, discovered myself, what was really important to me,” she said. “I no longer needed to be a high-powered executive or the go-to person in the entire company nationwide.
“It was a reawakening that there was a Danna Fisher Moore, human,” she said.
Though her breast cancer was discovered while still in Stage I, the taxing experience of chemo and radiation did permanent damage.
She lost 18 lymph nodes, her veins are smaller and difficult to locate, she has regular massages of her left arm to prevent fluid buildup, and she struggles with her memory.
Yet, the experience gave her something as well.
“The course of my life changed as a result of it,” she said. “It gave me permission not to break the glass ceiling.
“Consciously or unconsciously, that’s all I’d wanted all my life: to be better, be better, be better, and this experience gave me permission — in my own head, of course — it gave me permission to let go.”
Moore had never felt competent in her self-exams. Human tissue is not uniform, and she never knew if she would know what breast cancer felt like.
“One of the takeaways for me, when you’re doing a self-exam, you’re not an expert,” she said. “It’s not, ‘Am I diagnosing cancer?’ We’re all experts in our own bodies. You’re looking for a change.”
The change she found was subtle, a slight thickening, like the difference between the heel and other skin on a foot, she said.
Her gynecologist had difficulty finding it, and when Moore was sent for an ultrasound, she had to insist they keep looking when they found nothing at first.
Moore had a biopsy on a Wednesday, and asked her doctor not to make her wait the weekend, she said. At 9 p.m. Friday, she got the call.
“My reaction was not of shock, nor of — it just was — I wasn’t upset, I wasn’t disappointed. It just was a fact,” she said.
The tumor was 1.2 cm., but it was near her shoulder, and might never have been discovered by a mammogram until it was much more advanced, Moore said.
On June 4, 1999, Moore went in for surgery. The first real emotional hit she took was after it.
Moore had researched all she could on the internet, and she learned she may not need radiation or chemotherapy. Her oncologist said she would have to have both.
“Well, I lost it,” she said. “I don’t know why, because, I mean, they’re just words, but I cried. And my husband didn’t comfort me, nor did the doctor comfort me.
“And that was the beginning of realizing that I was on my own for my emotional needs.”
In 1999, a sentinel node biopsy — the removal of a single lymph node to test whether cancer has spread — was a new technique, Moore said. The doctor pioneering the procedure was in Annapolis, where Moore was being treated.She was unable to receive the new procedure, though. Instead, doctors removed 18 lymph nodes, leaving a large hole in her armpit.
She immediately had complications, and was unable to lift her arm over her shoulder without extreme pain a week after the procedure, she said.
Her doctor was incredulous, she said. “He thought I was being a wimp — I proved to him I wasn’t being a wimp,” she said.
At physical therapy, it was discovered she had “cording,” or axillary web syndrome. It is common to women who have undergone removal of lymph nodes associated with breast cancer surgery, according to breastcancer.org.
The result is incredible pain and restriction of movement.
Moore still has to go through the physical therapy exercises she began around 17 years ago to prevent the cording from recurring.
She also gets regular massages to control lymphedema, a swelling of her arm due to the lack of lymph nodes on that side of her body.
Moore also regrets not having psychometric testing to establish her baseline mental capabilities before her treatment.
“When I did finally go back to work — and even notice today — the ability to juggle 42,000 things at once doesn’t exist anymore,” she said. “My ability to function in my job was dramatically different; the ability to juggle stressful situations, dramatically different.”
Moore was shifted to a different job after her 18-month leave for treatment, she said. She didn’t enjoy what she was doing anymore, and she negotiated an exit package.
With her husband, Stephen, she bought a horse farm near Annapolis, and later went into real estate.
After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Moore and her husband decided they wanted to get away from major metropolitan areas. He had grown up in Carmel and attended Indiana University, so they settled on Brown County, and moved a to log cabin near Story in 2005.
She opened a store in Nashville in 2012, Brown County Clocks and Collectibles. Stephen was going to do clock repair and she would run the store.
A month after they opened, Stephen was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Now, Danna and Stephen both live in Bloomington, though she commutes to work in Nashville.
“What I’ve learned through all of this — breast cancer and treatment and everything — is, if you’re not havin’ fun doin’ it, don’t do it. Life is too short,” she said.
Moore recalled showing up at a Master Gardeners meeting without a wig after her hair first started to grow back. None of the other members had seen her without a wig before, though they were aware of her treatment.
“It was a reveal: ‘Here I am, world,’” she said, “like a phoenix out of the ashes.”
The baldness was freeing. “I think that’s when I truly let go,” she said.
She bought a 1986 Porsche 911 and drove it to her first chemotherapy treatment. “It was really cool to drive down the street in my 911, bald,” she said, “kind of a ‘Thelma and Louise’ moment.”
She learned to roll with the punches. She learned she didn’t have to be in control.
“I realized that I could no longer be superwoman, and that’s OK,” she said. “It was a humbling experience for me.”
“I got in touch with who I really am. I started listening to what my heart, my head, my body was saying.”
Moore said she tries to reach out to people along the way, but she’s learned she doesn’t have to be the one doing all the work.
The best way to do something for someone who is dealing with cancer and cancer treatment is to just do anything, she said.
“So many women won’t ask for help, and I was one of them,” she said. “There was never a person to ask for help for myself. I was always helping everybody else.
“If you know somebody who’s going through this, don’t ask them what you can do for them,” she said. “Just do something for them. Come clean their house, bring them food, sit with them, just be there.”
Spouse: Stephen Moore