At 3 p.m. on a cold January Friday, Melisa Plotner-Moore received a call with news she never wanted to hear: the biopsy was positive. She was diagnosed with non-hormonal breast cancer.
“When you first find out you don’t know anything about it,” Plotner-Moore explains. “You have so many questions.”
It was a devastating discovery. Over the next six months, the Thawville, Ill., resident’s questions were answered, surgeries performed, and she endured round after round of radiation treatments and one chemotherapy treatment. In the month of June alone she received radiation treatments for 20 days.
“[With chemo and radiation] there was a 90% chance it wouldn’t come back,” she says. “With this type of cancer, if it comes back, it likes to in the first five years and can metastasize fast in your brain, bones and lungs. If that happens, there’s not much they can do for you.”
Breast cancer is second only to certain types of skin cancer as the most common cancer in women, and also the second most common cause of death from cancer among women, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Women over the age of 40 are encouraged to get annual mammograms to check for cancer.
“Without 3-D mammography we never would have found the lump, especially not as early as we did,” she adds. “You’ve got to make time to take care of yourself.”
Women diagnosed with breast cancer have a few treatment options, including surgeries to remove lumps, mastectomies, chemotherapy and radiation.
Plotner-Moore went through a month of radiation treatments. She says growing up on a farm helped her to get up every morning and do what it took to survive.
“Growing up on the farm whether you got bucked off a horse or kicked by a cow, you just learn to keep going,” she adds. Her can-do attitude, and admittedly competitive nature, also meant she didn’t let cancer get in the way of another passion: tractor pulling.
Plotner-Moore’s pulling tractor, Cash Rent, sports a breast cancer awareness ribbon at each pull. Throughout her treatments and the 2018 season, her competitors rallied around her to keep her in good spirits and provide encouragement throughout her recovery.
She missed the first few pulls of the season because of her cancer treatments, but in early July got back on her ‘iron horse’ and ended up finishing the season 10th in her class. Plotner-Moore is quick to mention, that excludes the first few pulls, so she likely could have finished higher.
“I’m so glad she didn’t just sit in the house, I wanted her to be able to get out,” says Joel Moore, her husband. “As Melisa was going through radiation I made living quarters in the pulling semi-trailer, complete with air conditioning and a bathroom. That way if we got somewhere and she was tired or didn’t feel up to it she could get comfortable but still be able to get out.”
The couple started pulling tractors together about five years ago with Cash Rent and added a second tractor for Joel in recent years called The Other Woman. Joel serves as the pair’s mechanic for their International and Ford machines.
Cash Rent speaks to the funding for her operation. When Melisa’s mother passed away, she inherited farm ground and because the couple has other full-time jobs they decided to cash rent the property instead of farm themselves. Melisa serves as auditor for the Illinois Secretary of State and Joel is an engineer.
Melisa was raised on a farm and still keeps horses and some livestock. She fell in love with pulling tractors more than five years ago and says getting to do what she loves, with kind people, has been a dream come true.
“It was so nice to be surrounded by such supportive people,” she says. “Throughout my journey, I found that every day you can find something to be grateful for—even on your worst day there is always something to be grateful for.”
Each year about 237,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,100 in men, according the CDC research. While women are more frequently diagnosed, men can and do get breast cancer, too. Talk with doctors if you experience anything suspicious, because catching cancer early is the key to beating it.
Currently in remission, Melisa sports pink at every tractor pull and shares her story. She’s happy to be cancer-free and sympathizes with those women currently battling breast cancer and uses her platform to spread awareness.