Survivor Story: Geri Moran of Elmsford

Heather Salerno has this story about Geri Moran of Elmsford from Sunday’s Journal News:

Though some might not see having breast cancer as lucky, Elmsford’s Geri Moran, a 23-year survivor, knows exactly how much good fortune she’s had throughout her journey with the illness.

Her luck started when she went to her doctor in 1988 to investigate a shooting pain in her right breast. The doctor was convinced that the cause was a benign cyst, but he insisted that she go for a mammogram just to be sure. He was right about the cyst, but the mammogram also picked up a tiny tumor in the other breast.

“It was in a small space, in a duct, that made it more dangerous,” says Moran, who was a 40-year-old single mother when she was first diagnosed. “By the time I would have felt it, I would have been dead.”

Photos by Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News

Instead, her cancer was detected at Stage 1, early enough that it hadn’t spread. She had a mastectomy to remove the tumor, but she and her oncologist decided that she didn’t need further treatment like chemotherapy, radiation or other cancer-fighting drugs. Since then, she’s needed no additional therapies —nor has she had a recurrence of the disease.

“I always say I’m the luckiest person in the world,” says Moran.

So she found a way to give back, creating small cloth dolls called “Wish and Worry Angels.” They’re designed to bring comfort to those in need — the idea is to let the angel take care of your troubles — and Moran has given away hundreds over the years.

Many have gone to patients seeking help at Support Connection, the Yorktown Heights-based organization that offers services to those with breast and ovarian cancer. (She also sells them at the online marketplace Etsy.com, with a portion of the proceeds going to Support Connection and Operation Smile, a charity that provides free surgeries to children around the world with facial deformities.)

“Every time I sit down and say, ‘I’m not doing these angels anymore, nobody needs them,’ someone calls and says they want one for someone they know that’s sick,” she says.

There are plenty of other ways that breast cancer changed Geri Moran’s life. After the jump, here are 10 more examples of how the disease has impacted her:

1. It gave her the courage to walk away from a bad job. She was so stressed out while working for a home heating company that she worried about having a heart attack. “I was sitting in a cardiologist’s office…and suddenly just thought, ‘Wait, I did not survive cancer to end up in a cardiologist’s office over a stupid job.’” She left her job shortly afterward and became self-employed.

2. It helps her put things in perspective these days. “It allows me to measure everything else against it,” she says. “I survived cancer, so this stupid situation — whatever it may be — is not going to do me in.”

3. She learned how deeply people care about her. Right after she got sick, family members and close friends rushed to help — but she also got cards, flowers and phone calls from folks she’d lost touch with or had only recently met. “People who I’d worked for years before came great distances to visit me in the hospital. That blew me away,” she says.

4.She no longer saves champagne for a special occasion. “I have been known to have a glass with a peanut butter sandwich,” she laughs.

5. She gets claustrophobic. “I don’t know why. People have said it could be a control thing,” she says. “If I walked into my own closet and shut the door, I’d be OK because I could open the door. But I don’t like elevators. I have to use them, but there are times when I have to stand back and let one pass. And the subway? Forget it. That’s not happening ever again.”

6. So she refuses to fly in an airplane anymore. “I do less things that I ‘have’ to do,” she explains. “I used to feel guilty that I didn’t face my fear and fly anyway. You know what? I don’t have to. I can choose which fears to face based on what I really want.”

7. Yet she discovered that she’s stronger than she thought when it comes to other challenges: A few years after her diagnosis, she walked over hot coals at a Tony Robbins seminar! “I didn’t intend to do it until I was there,” she says. “I saw others doing it and thought, ‘What the heck.’ Never in a million years would I have done that before.”

8. When she hit the five-year mark of being cancer-free, she reflected on the compassion shown by the health care professionals who cared for her — and then she wrote them all thank-you notes. “Some were so touched that they wrote back and told me that they rarely receive that kind of feedback. I think that is a shame.”

9. She sometimes gets a physical rush just looking at a beautiful sky. “I find myself really appreciating things on a different level.”

10. She’s been moved to tears by the effect that her Wish and Worry angels has had on some people.

She was told that one woman loved her angel so much that her family put it in her casket after she passed away. Hearing that, “I started to sob so hard I couldn’t catch my breath,” she says. “I’m never going to stop making them.”

Liz Johnson

Liz Johnson is the food editor of The Journal News and LoHud.com, for which she's won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.