Woman powers through 5Ks after chemo, surgery

Twice since beginning treatment for Stage 4 colon cancer, Kelli Moore has had chemotherapy on a Friday and walked a 5K the next day.

The immediate thought is “How does she do that?” One also might ask “Why does she do that?”

To answer the first question, Moore, 46, said the chemotherapy hasn’t had a lot of effect on her as far as making her tired until three or four days later.

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“I just get up in the morning, and I have committed to do them, so I get up and walk,” she said.

As for why she does it, one reason is to get healthier. Fluid buildup had pushed her weight to nearly 200 pounds, so the doctor put her on medication and potassium.

She had signed up to hand out school supplies for the Rock’n Ready event in August in Seymour but instead participated in the 5K to help raise money for next year’s drive.

She has since done five other 5Ks. They help take her mind off of everything she is going through.

“I put my headphones in, and I just start on the walk,” Moore said. “My goal is to make it to the finish line, and I’ve done it every time.”

Three of the walks have been in Seymour, while the others were in Zionsville and downtown Indianapolis.

“I’m just out to enjoy the day and enjoy the weather,” Moore said. “It’s another moment to have to enjoy and say that when you get to the finish line, ‘I did it.’”

Instead of thinking about cancer, she’s thinking about returning to her job as a fourth- and fifth-grade Title I teacher assistant at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School in Seymour, finishing work on her degree to become a teacher and being there for her two sons.

“It’s something I have. It’s not who I am. I’m going to get through it,” she said of cancer. “There are goals in my life I want to get. I want to see my son graduate from college in two years. I want to see my kids get married whenever they decide to do that.”

After each race, she gets her picture taken holding a sign saying how many 5Ks she has completed since her cancer surgery.

“You’re thinking, ‘I’m going to be here. I’ve just got to keep on going.’ There is a silver lining in every day,” she said. “The way I look at it is if my blood pressure got as low as it did, most people wouldn’t have made it through that. Here I am four months later, and I’m still going. There’s definitely a reason. I haven’t figured it out, but I’ll find it.”

Moore learned of her cancer diagnosis in June.

About a half-hour before getting off from working a double shift at her second job at Pizza Palace in Seymour, she had pain shoot across her stomach and wasn’t feeling well. She went home and ate something but began to have hot and cold flashes.

She wound up going to Schneck Medical Center in Seymour to get checked out. A scan revealed her colon had split and had fluid all the way around it.

Moore spent some time in a regular hospital room until being moved that evening to the intensive care unit.

The morning of June 19, she was set to have exploratory surgery, and that’s when doctors realized she had colon cancer. The surgery took nearly four hours.

“They removed three-fourths of my colon, 17 lymph nodes and a piece of my liver,” Moore said.

A couple of hours after her surgery, her blood pressure dropped to 54 over 13. While they worked to get that back to a normal level, Moore learned the next day that she had colon cancer.

“They said colon cancer starts from the inside out,” she said. “I never had any symptoms other than being tired, but I just figured I was tired because I work two jobs and go to school full time.”

The news of her cancer diagnosis came six years after going through the death of her husband, who had a drug addiction and was in and out of rehab.

“You always want to hear the positives, but then you don’t want anybody to sugarcoat it, either. You want them to tell you exactly what’s going on,” she said. “The way I look at it, my blood pressure dropped so low, and I’m still here today, so there’s purpose to my life. I just have to figure out what it is.”

Being a single parent and about to turn 46, Moore said she never thought she would have cancer. She said it became a little scary when a doctor told her to make sure she has a living will and other items in order.

That’s when she decided to have a positive outlook in life.

“I’m meant to do something, and I’m trying to go back to school to be a teacher, and I work at Brown Elementary School, and I miss working with my kids,” Moore said. “So that’s my goal. I want to get back to doing regular things.”

Moore was told Stage 4 colon cancer is not a death sentence if a person goes through treatments, so in August, she began going to the Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis for chemotherapy.

Since those treatments are every three weeks and take two to four hours, Moore got an apartment in Southport that’s only 15 minutes away. She still has her home in Seymour and goes back and forth between living there and Southport.

She also takes chemotherapy pills twice a day for 14 days and then has a week off from taking any medication.

“There isn’t a set time as to how long I’ll be doing it because they are afraid with the fact that the colon is split that it could possibly go into the stomach lining, and if it did go in the stomach lining, there is no cure for that. There is only treatment,” she said. “It could be ongoing treatment forever, but the scans are looking better every time I get one.”

She has had two CT scans since her surgery.

“I just got my second scan back, and the two spots they were watching on my liver have shrunk, so the chemo is working,” she said.

Cold sensitivity has been her worst side effect from chemotherapy. For a week afterwards, she can’t drink anything cold.

“The tips of my fingers are affected, so opening a refrigerator is starting to get affected where I feel like my fingers have frostbite on them, but after a week, that goes away,” she said.

“The medicine they put in your chemo, they are looking at taking that away if my scan in December comes back good,” she said. “They’ll be able to take that medicine out of there, and I won’t be affected the rest of my life. But if they keep that in, then it just keeps building up, and it gets worse.”

Moore also has to wear an ostomy bag, which she empties every four or five days.

“It basically processes your food. Instead of you having a bowel movement, it’s through that,” she said.

On Wednesday, she met with her surgeon about doing reconstructive surgery on her colon and found out that may not be possible until sometime in May 2018.

“The only way it will be sooner is if I have a break in my chemo treatments,” Moore said. “I already know I have chemo until Dec. 12, and that will be my first treatment in my third cycle. Each cycle is three treatments. So that means that cycle won’t be done until February. I hope I will get good news in February, and I can do the surgery then.”

Through it all, Moore said she has been fortunate to have strong family support.

Her oldest son, Logan, 23, lives in the same apartment complex in Southport, and her other son, Skylar, 20, is a junior studying computer science at Ball State University in Muncie. Both are nearby if she needs anything.

Her mother, Fran Reiland, moved from St. Louis, Missouri, to Southport for a year to take her to chemotherapy appointments, and she keeps in contact with her father, who lives in San Diego, California.

The community also has supported Moore. Brown Elementary sold T-shirts, June Bug Boutique sold keychains and Pizza Palace had a fundraiser to help her out financially while she is off from work.

“I went from working at Brown Elementary five days a week, working at Pizza Palace a couple nights a week and going to school full time to become a teacher, so going from having all of that activity to no set schedule whatsoever, it’s a struggle,” she said.

Her ultimate goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She still has two full years left.

“I kind of started out as I want to show my kids that you’re never too old to go back to school,” she said. “I’m still debating whether I’m going to go back to school. It’s a goal that’s there, but I’m waiting to see what the doctors say as far as my treatment.”

Since she can’t go to work or school, Moore has kept busy with volunteer opportunities and 5Ks.

She said she prefers 5Ks that have proceeds benefiting a good cause, including organizations that help people with cancer.

“I’ll just keep going on the internet and seeing where they are at, and if there’s not a 5K, I just find something to volunteer,” she said.

To others going through cancer, Moore said it’s important to stay positive.

“Too many people that have cancer think of it as, ‘Oh, how many more good days am I going to have?’” she said. “It’s more like you need to get up and be like, ‘I’m going to have a good day today’ and find something to do and find the silver lining in everything.”

Moore also recommends doing a 5K or something else to stay active.

“If you don’t do a 5K, just go out walking, just walk around downtown, walk wherever,” she said. “I plug in my phone and listen to music, and I forget about it all and just go for a walk.”

Moore file

Name: Kelli Moore

Age: 46

Hometown: Grew up Hartland, Michigan, for 20 years until moving to Seymour in January 1991

Type of cancer: Stage 4 colon cancer

Occupation: Fourth- and fifth-grade Title I teacher assistant at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School in Seymour; also works part time at Pizza Palace in Seymour

Family: Sons, Logan Moore, 23, and Skylar Moore, 20

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.