Home ♃ Recent Stories ☄ Jeffco Judge Pat Stephens-Moss, Breast Cancer Survivor, Backed By Her ‘Sistahs-In-Law’

Jeffco Judge Pat Stephens-Moss, Breast Cancer Survivor, Backed By Her ‘Sistahs-In-Law’

Judge Patricia Stephens-Moss backed by an army of supporters during the Brenda's Brown Bosom Buddies Sistah Strut outside Birmingham's Legion Field. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)
By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson
The Birmingham Times

For a decade, Jefferson County Judge Patricia Stephens Moss has supported the Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies (BBBB) Sistah Strut, held annually at Birmingham’s Legion Field. While her support has strengthened, she now participates as one of the “Pink Sisters,” a breast cancer survivor who knows firsthand what women face in this personal health crisis.

“I had no idea I’d be one of her Pink Sisters,” Stephens Moss said in a recent interview with The Birmingham Times.

On Saturday, September 30, Stephens Moss not only continued her support but also brought a team of others, including police officers, judges, and judicial assistants—known as the “Sistahs in Law.”

“This is more than a walk, it’s a movement,” Stephens Moss said on Saturday. “… And I’m thankful to be a part of the movement. I’m thankful that others who work in the legal field and others came out today.”

In addition to bringing her team the judge brought some life-saving advice, too.

“Always have your yearly mammograms. I couldn’t feel the lump, so if it hadn’t been for the mammogram and if it hadn’t been for the early detection, I might not be here today,” she said.

Sistah Strut is just one of many events heralding the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is marked in countries around the world every October to help increase attention and support for the awareness, early detection, and treatment, as well as palliative care of this disease.

The Fight Begins

In 2016, Stephens Moss married the Rev. Ira Moss, pastor of New Mount Zion in Tuskegee, Alabama, who she met in 2014 after being set up by a mutual friend at football game of her alma mater, Auburn University. Their union has produced a blended family of five children, 10 grandchildren, and three bonus grands.

Fast forward three years from their wedding date, in 2019, and an unexpected diagnosis—Stephens Moss learned she had breast cancer after a routine mammogram at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center.

“I had to go back [for a follow-up visit], and [during the exam] the tech would go back to that same spot, so I got suspicious. Later, I was told that I needed a biopsy. I went in on a Monday and they called me on Friday. That’s when I learned I had breast cancer,” she said. “I’m gonna tell you that I think the lights went out for a few minutes. [The doctor] thought I was panicking, but in my mind, I was thinking, ‘Tell me what to do to get rid of it.’”

Shortly after learning about the diagnosis, Stephens Moss called a couple of breast cancer survivors and asked about their oncologists, doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating cancer. That’s when she chose her team at the Kirklin Clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Hospital, which included oncologist Erica Stringer-Reasor, M.D., a recent recipient of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Diversity Enhancement and last year’s Ambassador of Hope for Sistah Strut.

“There are all types of breast cancer, and mine was a very aggressive form—HER2 positive,” Stephens Moss said of her illness, described by the Mayo Clinic website as “a breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). This protein promotes the growth of cancer cells.”

She added, “I was told I needed chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, and radiation. My chemo started on Halloween of 2019. I started chemo, and there were four different drugs put into my body on a Wednesday every three weeks. It would literally take all day. That went on from October 2019 to February 2020.”

Despite the challenges, there were some beautiful memories, Stephens Moss recalled.

“On Feb. 15, 2020, my son flew in from Arizona with his daughter and wife as I was finishing up my chemo treatment at Kirklin Clinic, and they were there when I rang the bell. Ringing the bell marks an opportunity to celebrate for cancer patients after they complete their treatment,” she said.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Strong and Steady Support

There was one constant throughout Stephens Moss’s fight: “My husband was with me every single visit to the doctor,” she said.

“Chemo was on Wednesday every three weeks, and it took all day. I wouldn’t schedule anything on Thursday and Friday, I’d rest Saturday, and we’d drive to church in Tuskegee on Sunday.”

While Stephens Moss’s husband would lead services, he gave her “no duties at church other than to sit and look pretty,” she said. “I said to my husband, ‘You didn’t sign up for this.’ And he said to me, ‘God just gave you to me, so I know He’s not gonna take you away from me now.’”

With her husband’s support, Stephens Moss persevered, even though the road to recovery still presented a few twists and turns and some hurdles to overcome.

One Day at a Time

Stephens Moss is an alum of Auburn University and Miles College School of Law, graduating from the latter honored as cum laude, a Latin phrase that indicates the level of distinction with which an academic degree has been earned. Before taking the bench, she was a prosecuting attorney for the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office and held a general practice law firm. She was elected to the 10th Judicial Circuit Court, Domestic Relations, 10 years ago.

While undergoing treatment, Stephens Moss continued serving on the bench, even on days when she didn’t feel her best.

“Actually, I [was] in my office one Monday and my judicial assistant walked in and saw me lying on the floor. She flipped the light on, moved some cases, and told me I was going home,” the judge recalled.

“A lot of times after treatment, melons, [watermelons, cantaloupe, and honeydew], were the only thing I could keep down,” said Stephens Moss. “The fifth day [after chemo], I could eat regularly, but not a lot of greasy foods. I ate a lot of veggies—greens, including collard, cabbage, and turnip—and a lot of baked foods. It was easier on the palate because you get to the point where there’s a metallic taste in your mouth all the time because your taste buds are off.”

Through all of her recovery, the judge managed to keep her docket going the entire time. “A lot of attorneys feel there weren’t any hiccups,” she said.

Stephens Moss also had to have 30 radiation treatments Monday through Friday, which she had to do alone because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I would leave work, get radiation treatment, and come back to work. I did that for six weeks,” she recalled.

Another challenge manifested as she underwent treatment: “Toward the last two weeks, the radiation started to burn my skin,” Stephens Moss recalled. “I endured the broken skin and open wounds because I wanted to finish the radiation. I put cream on it, and I had a T-shirt on underneath so my clothes wouldn’t rub it.”

“For that one, I had to ring the bell by myself because of [the pandemic],” she said.

The Last Leg of the Journey

One of the most interesting things about her breast cancer fight was the timing of her diagnosis and treatment. Her surgery was March 13, 2020, just prior to the COVID-19 shutdown.

“After the surgery, you go home [the next day] with drains, which are inserted so fluid can drain out of your body where they made the incision. I kept those drains for two to three weeks,” Stephens Moss said.

One of the biggest lessons she learned had nothing to do with breast cancer: “[I began] allowing people to support me. It was difficult at first for me to accept, but eventually I did.”

“I had a friend who started a list for people to bring me meals,” said Stephens Moss. “That same friend offered for people to come to my house to help clean, and I jokingly told her, “[You’re] taking me too fast. Let’s take one step at a time, starting with the meals.’ I was thankful for the friends who helped with the meals, but I would not allow the cleaning.”

Although she remained strong for most of her treatment, Stephens Moss remembered one emotional moment when she learned of additional treatment.

“My doctor told me I had to continue infusions until December of that year, [2019]. When she told me I had to continue those infusions, it was the only time I broke down and cried,” Stephens Moss said. “It was disappointing to know I had to continue. But [my doctor] assured me that those infusions were necessary because they were a barrier to make sure the cancer didn’t come back.”

To find out more about Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies or to donate, visit https://brendasbrownbosombuddies.org.