Breast cancer. Double mastectomy. Complete hysterectomy. COVID-19 positive.

That’s how Laynie Moser’s 2020 has gone so far, but the 36-year-old Lewiston woman isn’t complaining. Instead, she’s focusing on the positives and using her firsthand experience to help people facing similar storms during a pandemic.

After losing her mother, Gina Quesenberry, to breast cancer 15 years ago, Moser said she’s thankful to be alive and especially grateful for the community support and the perspective she’s gained during this difficult and “terrifying” year.

“I’ve learned so much through this journey,” Moser said. “In addition to giving yourself grace and finding joy every day, I really want to let people know how important early detection is, and I’m encouraging women to get mammograms, even if they are under the age of 40. I just want to make sure people are paying attention to their bodies. I also found out we really need to be advocates for ourselves when it comes to health care.”

Moser, who was 21 years old when her 45-year-old mother died from the disease, is well aware of the devastating consequences of a cancer diagnosis. After her mother passed away, she started a foundation in

Quesenberry’s honor, and the nonprofit organization has helped hundreds of Lewiston-Clarkston Valley residents. The foundation continues to directly support breast cancer patients in the region.

“It’s so crazy,” Moser said. “I’ve devoted my whole life to breast cancer, and then I got it. In a really strange way, I’m glad I did. It’s given me a whole new perspective on life. I found wisdom that I wouldn’t have at this age. It makes you realize what’s important and how you want to live your life going forward. Now when I talk to people going through this, I can relate to the pain and the process from a firsthand perspective.”

Layci Peer, executive director of the Gina Quesenberry Foundation, said the organization has provided about $416,000 to 239 patients since 2005. The funds help cover living and medical expenses during treatment, which can take months and often affects household finances.

“All of that money stays local and goes directly to breast cancer patients in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley or people who come here from outlying areas for treatment,” Moser said. “That makes my heart so happy. It helps with things such as house payments, rent, food, heating bills and transportation to treatments. We’ve had some amazing stories from the women we’ve helped. It makes you cry when you read their letters.”

Moser, who began having mammograms in her late 20s, learned of her own diagnosis in March, right around the time the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. She had noticed an indentation on one of her breasts during a self-exam, and went in for a during a self-exam, and went in for a mammogram right away, because of her family history.

At the time, she was preparing for Wine Fest, a foundation fundraiser, which ultimately had to be canceled because of the coronavirus.

“That actually turned out to be a blessing,” she said. “On the day I found out I had breast cancer, I would’ve been up on stage, putting on a huge event. But it was a very trying time to have breast cancer, because COVID had just exploded.”

Her physician had to get special approval for Moser to undergo a double mastectomy in Spokane. Because of the coronavirus, she was alone in the hospital and discharged the day she underwent major surgery.

“They sent me out the door as soon as I was conscious,” Moser said. “It was really difficult, and I feel horrible for anyone having to be in the hospital during this pandemic, because you have to be all alone. It’s such an emotional and scary time, and not having that support system makes it even harder.”

After the surgery, a cancerous lymph node was discovered, and physicians determined the best course of treatment was radiation. In the past, she probably would’ve had to endure chemotherapy, but technology and testing has vastly improved since her mother had cancer, Moser said.

She also had a complete hysterectomy and dealt with other complications. Throughout the ordeal, Moser asked questions and sought multiple opinions before proceeding with initial recommendations.

“What I learned through my cancer journey is you have to advocate for your health care,” Moser said. “Luckily, I knew a lot about breast cancer through my mom’s experience and the foundation. I still found it trying to figure out the next steps. I think everyone should get a second opinion, even if you have an amazing doctor. It’s your life, and you have to take it in your hands.”

Over the course of five weeks, Moser was given radiation five days a week at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. She said the radiation and oncology departments were “incredible,” along with her Summit Funding co-workers who kept everything at the mortgage-lending business flowing smoothly while the branch manager was away.

“I was completely drained of energy, trying to heal from the mastectomy, another surgery for a hematoma and the hysterectomy,” she said. “The people at St. Joe’s were so kind and caring when I went there for radiation. As for work, I can’t even put into words how grateful I am for my team. They’re seriously the best and kept it afloat while I was going through all of this.”

Moser said another huge part of her recovery was the help she received from her boyfriend, Jason Eldridge, and two of her close friends, Amanda Lacuesta and Desirae Reed.

“They took such good care of me, coming to my house every day to drain my tubes and shower me. I couldn’t have gotten through all of this without their help.”

On top of the cancer treatments, Moser tested positive for COVID-19 in August. Compared to the multiple cancer-related surgeries and everything else she’d gone through in 2020, the virus is barely worth a footnote, she said.

“It was not that bad,” she said. “I had a headache and some burning in my nose.”

Moser, who is the mother of two daughters, Lilly, 9, and Mayzie, 6, said she’s finally beginning to feel like herself again. She’s back at work and plans to undergo breast reconstruction surgery early next year in Seattle.

As the year winds down, she jokingly said she’s not asking what could happen next, because she doesn’t want to know the answer. Right now she’s focusing on a healthy future, her girls, the foundation and “living her best life.”

She’s also remembering all of the heartfelt help she received during the wild ride of 2020, and hoping she can do the same for other breast cancer patients in the years to come.

“The outpouring of love from the community this past year has been incredible,” Moser said. “I truly did not know how many lives I’ve touched until I got breast cancer myself. It was really humbling and made me even more dedicated to the foundation.”

Sandaine may be contacted at kerris@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.

Sandaine may be contacted at kerris@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.

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