Meet Dr. Mooney
Blaise Mooney, MD
Director of Breast Imaging at Moffitt
Dr. Mooney found his path to breast cancer imaging at Moffitt having seen the effects of the disease on both his mother and grandmother. An avid scuba diver who never had a sick day in his life, he began having earaches in 2012, which he attributed to his time in the water. After antibiotics failed to stop the problem, he was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist who found an enlarged tonsil and possible mass on his CT scan. Concerned, but with no idea of the seriousness of the issue, Dr. Mooney had surgery to remove the tonsils—and awoke to see his wife and surgeon beside him. They broke the news: It was cancer. “Am I awake…is this real?” he wondered, hoping the effects of anesthesia had induced a bad dream. But it was very real.
Two days later he was back at Moffitt—suddenly as a cancer patient. More bad news: The muscles around the tonsils had tumors. He would need radiation. And it was during his treatments that tumors aggressively grew on his jaw, tongue and throat. Again he thought, “This can’t be real.” He was healthy. He’d done “everything by the book.” He didn’t smoke and had no family history of this type of cancer.
At this point, he had few options—one of which would give him only six months to live. Thinking of his wife and three young kids, he decided to undergo a dangerous procedure performed by only a few surgeons in the United States. Amazingly, one of them happened to be right here at Moffitt. But survival meant removing part of his jaw, throat and tongue, and difficult reconstructive surgery using muscles, bone, tissue, veins and arteries from his leg. Nothing was certain. Yet he found the strength he needed from his wife—his rock—whose simple message kept him going: “You have to will it to work.”
After a 10-hour surgery Dr. Mooney had some major complications that night and had to return the next morning for five more hours of surgery. During recovery, he lost 30 pounds and needed a feeding tube for three months. Today, swallowing and talking are different. But he doesn’t complain. He knows he’s lucky to be alive.
His battle has brought his life’s purpose into sharp focus. “How can I contribute to make the world better around me?” he wonders. It’s led him to redouble his efforts in detecting and preventing breast cancer in his patients. And inspiration comes easily. “The patients are the energy that drives the cancer center,” he says. “The doctors and staff at Moffitt just draw from it.”