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A face behind stage IV lung cancer: Moroney’s moving story

Jayna Bardahl, Print Co-Editor-in-Chief

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Two and a half minutes from now somebody will be told four words that carry the weight of the world: “You have lung cancer.” One hundred fifty seconds is all it takes for someone’s life to be completely derailed by lung cancer, the cancer that leads deaths amongst them all, and for DGS Fine Arts secretary Eileen Moroney, one of these two and a half minute diagnoses went to her.

Moroney sat in the white-walled doctor’s office in January 2016 surrounded by the smell of antiseptics. She was sitting on a stiff paper-lined bed, waiting for what she thought would be a simple prescription to solve her digestive problems, heartburn and bloating. However, as the doctor re-entered the room, there was no Post-it-sized RX paper in his hands. Instead the doctor shared news that tumors were found on Moroney’s liver.

Moroney’s life-or-death battle with cancer began. After following up with a biopsy, doctors concluded that this abnormal lump of cells began in her lungs, diagnosing her with ALK positive stage IV lung cancer.

“Shock, disbelief,” Moroney said, speechlessly reflecting on her reaction to the diagnosis. “It is stage IV. That means it spread, so they can treat it, but they can’t cure it. Again cliché, I never thought that would happen to me. I was really healthy, so it kind of just blew our world a part for my whole family.”

“Family,” Moroney highlights, is an aspect of her life that made accepting her diagnosis extremely difficult. Moroney’s husband, Patrick Moroney, expressed how impactful the diagnosis was to the couple and their three children.

“Eileen and I have been married for over 28 years. She is a wonderful mom, daughter, sister, and dedicated co-worker. She is my best friend, and I love her very much,” Patrick Moroney said.

As impactful as the diagnosis was to the Moroney family, DGS students and staff also reacted emotionally.

“I think when someone you care about has a serious illness, you go through many different emotions: fear, anger, grief, etc.,” orchestra teacher Jennifer Mullen said. “I was scared for her, and at the same time, I felt powerless in my ability to help.”

Eileen Moroney has worked as the DGS Fine Arts secretary for four years. She acts as the backbone to all things music and art related; her daily tasks range from organizing paperwork and making copies of music to interacting with the hundreds of students involved in the fine arts department.

“She is someone that anyone can talk to. I remember the first time I walked into her office. I was a shy girl and within a few minutes I was having a full on conversation with her,” senior Priya Patel said.

Eileen Moroney’s type of lung cancer, ALK positive, only accounts for about 4-7 percent of all lung cancers, and for this she considers herself lucky. The uniqueness of her cancer has prevented her treatment from consisting of the usual radiation-driven chemotherapy that both mentally and physically deteriorates its patients. Instead she gets to take advantage of new research that enables her to take a pill in the comfort of her own home instead of the dismal environment of a hospital.

However, every medication has a side effect and for Eileen Moroney’s pill, there is the inevitable fate of growing a resistance. Currently, the pill she is taking has an average usage of 10 months before a resistance develops, leaving her future up in the air.

“There’s a big question mark, so it’s a little stressful,” Eileen Moroney said.

The constant question mark that barricades Eileen Moroney’s future is a fate she learned to accept the hard way. Last spring, her cancer continued to toxically disseminate throughout her body, eventually taking control over the core of her intellectual self–her brain.

After the discovery of the brain tumor, Eileen Moroney underwent brain surgery last spring. This caused her to miss the last six weeks of school last year in order to recover from the operation. This prolonged absence was especially hard to accept, especially since aside from that recovery period she has only missed 10 days of school since her diagnosis for mandatory doctors appointments.

Along with staying dedicated to what she loves, Eileen Moroney is devoted to keeping a positive mindset, an attitude that can be verified by her niece and DGS senior, Clare McNeeley.

“I look up to her for always being so brave and being positive, especially when she had to have brain surgery. I never have heard her complain through all of this,” McNeeley said.

After a successful brain operation, Eileen Moroney’s outlook shifted. She decided she could no longer just be a patient, she now wanted to be an advocate. She wanted to put a face behind lung cancer.

Eileen Moroney discovered LUNGevity, a foundation that advocates for lung cancer by building awareness, strengthening research and supporting patients. Instantly she immersed herself in the foundation and all that it offered. At the end of last year, she created a video to propose LUNGevity to be the 2017-2018 DGS philanthropy project. She described what aspects she added to this proposal.

“I said that I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and that it’s the number one cancer killer. It kills twice as many women as breast cancer. Three times as many men as prostate cancer, but like I said it gets only six percent of federal research dollars, and I learned a lot of this from LUNGevity,” Eileen Moroney said. “I’ve had such great treatment and I’ve benefitted from LUNGevity, so I have to be somebody that gets the word out. I can’t sit on the sidelines anymore.”

DGS band teacher Gregory Hensel commented on how Eileen Moroney has taken this disease and made it into something both motivational and inspirational for herself and others.

“She’s come out of her shell to be her own advocate and speak up for herself. For her to have the courage to make a video after she had surgery last year talking about LUNGevity (that was her proposal for our philanthropy this year) that alone I think shows the difference in her,” Hensel said.

Patel agrees that promoting LUNGevity as the philanthropy cause was an action that proved how strong the battle with cancer had made Eileen Moroney.

“She took her diagnosis and made it into something positive by pitching LUNGevity as our philanthropic project this year. That took so much strength for her to make that video, pitch the idea and allow herself to be vulnerable to help others,” Patel said.

The DGS community will begin to pay more attention to LUNGevity towards the beginning of second semester; however, November is lung cancer awareness month, and with that comes a great opportunity to begin researching the things that the organization advocates for. In Eileen Moroney’s point of view, the biggest thing that she hopes DGS students walk away with after contributing to LUNGevity is awareness.

“I’d like more people to realize that cancer is cancer and there’s a lot of cancers out there and they all need attention and research because we are already finding that some treatments for lung cancer might work for breast cancer. [Also] I think, obviously, to take a little of the stigma away,” Moroney said while elaborating on the commonly made assumption that all lung cancer diagnoses are linked to a past of smoking. “I would like people to not think of it as a disease that somebody gave themself or deserved. Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer.”

When coming face-to-face with a force as powerful as cancer, a diagnosis can seem to stop life in its tracks, forming a barrier that separates what it means to live and to be alive. However, Eileen Moroney serves as an example of someone who looked at cancer as a small obstacle that would not make her weak, but instead prove her perseverance.

“Eileen is very strong and an example to us all on how to handle oneself when faced with personal adversity. She believes very strongly in the mission of LUNGevity and is committed to raising awareness and the great need for further research and support to all those affected by lung cancer,” Patrick Moroney said.

She has not let cancer dominate her daily routine, she is devoted to staying positive and living her life in the most normal way that she can.

“She hasn’t let her diagnosis take over her life. She is controlling the disease, it isn’t controlling her,” Mullen said.

Now here we stand, five minutes and at least two lung cancer diagnoses later, affected by a story and faced with the opportunity to help. Moroney has taken something many would see as life-altering and made it into a life-changing opportunity for personal growth and awareness. She does not “sit on the sidelines” of cancer, but she stands strong against anything it throws her way with her family, co-workers, students and friends all behind her back.

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1 Comment

One Response to “A face behind stage IV lung cancer: Moroney’s moving story”

  1. Rose Mary P Jandes on November 27th, 2017 7:45 pm

    Eileen, I met you in Glenn Williams’s office many years ago when I was accompanist for solo contest. My oldest son, a ‘94 DGS graduate and band/wind ensemble tubaist, was graduating 8th grade the month my cancer returned, also what is now referred to as Stage IV. My treatment was the radiation followed by 15 mos of chemo. I definitely know what you are going through, and I am here for anything you might need. Please email me if I can help in any way or even just go for breakfast/lunch, on a good day for you, and just meet and talk.—Prayers, RoseMary

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A face behind stage IV lung cancer: Moroney’s moving story