Welcome to Survivor Stories; a new series you’ll be seeing on our blog that highlights WNY women through their journey from diagnosis to survivorship. These stories are meant to help spread awareness about detection, treatment options and more. We are also publishing them so women currently going through treatment know they are not alone, and there is hope.
Kristy Gossel is the first to be featured in our series. Please read Kristy’s story and join us in supporting her through her journey. If you are interested in being featured, please contact Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet Kristy Gossel
When were you first diagnosed with breast cancer?
August 17, 2016
How did you discover it?
I found the lump myself as I was getting ready for bed one night. I had an itch on the side of my left breast and noticed something. I never would have thought something so typically innocent would lead to the chain of events that followed & ultimately change my life in an instant, but I have to be grateful I found it when I did. My prognosis might have been much worse if it was detected any later.
What did you do after learning of your diagnosis? What were the first steps you took toward developing a treatment plan?
My first step was a visit to my OB/GYN, who sent me for a mammogram. They couldn’t see the lump on my initial mammogram, believe it or not. Subsequently, I had an ultrasound as well as a core biopsy, which is what confirmed my diagnosis. I found out my results the day after my biopsy. I will absolutely never forget that phone call. I immediately reached out to a friend who had gotten the same diagnosis several years before me. It gave me comfort, as much as one could have, to have a person to lean on that had been in my shoes, and especially, one that is now healthy & thriving. I got recommendations & promptly set up an appointment at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. The weeks that followed my diagnosis were flooded with meeting my team of doctors, scans, and a ton of anxiety & fear about what was ahead. I had genetic testing to see if my cancer had any genetic connections that would affect my surgical decisions. Luckily, I had positive outcomes to this, as well as MOST of my scans. My cancer didn’t appear to have spread into any lymph nodes or other parts of my body. I was, however, told that I had an unrelated cancerous nodule on my thyroid that would also need to be addressed after I completed my breast cancer treatment. Even though it felt as though my life was completely falling apart, I did the best I could to prepare to fight.
Tell us about your treatment plan.
Being diagnosed with Stage 2A E-, PR-, HER-2+ cancer, I was told I would have 6 rounds of chemotherapy, once every 21 days. It would include 4 different infusions- Taxotere, Carboplatin, Perjeta, and Herceptin. Because I was HER-2 positive, I would continue to receive Herceptin by mediport infusion for an entire year by itself once my 6 rounds were complete. I would also have to have surgery as well as 23 rounds of radiation. I also had a total thyroidectomy ahead to address the thyroid cancer.
Was your treatment plan successful?
Thankfully, I can say yes. My first scans indicated that the chemo had almost completely eliminated the breast tumor. I was fortunate to take a conservative approach to surgery, and my incredibly talented surgeon simply removed whatever calcification remained after chemo, and double checked my lymph nodes, also with a great outcome. After healing from surgery, I rang the bell for the second time after 23 rounds of radiation. I had a successful thyroidectomy in August, officially completed Herceptin at the end of September & had my mediport removed shortly thereafter. My first scans after treatment ended were just about 2 weeks ago, and I’m thankful to report I’m all clear. I will be followed every 3 months for now by my oncologist at Roswell & will cross my fingers for clean repeat scans again in May.
If you could go back to the day you were diagnosed is there anything you would have done differently?
Truthfully, I don’t think there’s even one thing I could or would have done differently. I was an extremely healthy person, probably in the best shape of my life on the day I heard those words. You never think you’ll be the person who gets that diagnosis. There is absolutely no way to prepare yourself when your life is turned upside down by it. I can, however, say I look at just about everything in life differently AFTER cancer. It’s all about choosing how you’re going to approach it.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to share with someone who is newly diagnosed?
I think the thing that was most important to me during my journey was finding & accepting the things I COULD do instead of feeling sad about the things I couldn’t. You may not be able to run 10 miles today, but if you can walk one mile, do that. Be okay with it. Celebrate it. You WILL run again someday. I had to give up power yoga, something I loved, for the entire year I was undergoing treatment. I went on the hunt for a studio that offered types of yoga that were new to me, more on the restorative side. I nourished my body, listened to it, and cherished the fact that despite what I was going through, I was still able to do what made me happy & feel strong, even if it was in a different way. I ultimately pursued a yoga teacher training program while I was going through treatment. Continue doing something you love. That was always my message, the thing that saved me when the days got hard. It will give you something positive to hold onto while you’re going through a challenging time, and may open some wonderful new doors for you. Be on a mission to come out on the other side of this experience an even better, stronger, more amazing version of yourself.
How has cancer changed you as a person?
Cancer has definitely changed my life dramatically. I’m not sure how it couldn’t. I think having the word ‘cancer’ enter your vocabulary is inherently accompanied by a certain level of fear that will likely always linger, which is a big challenge. As a survivor, I feel like I’ve been given another chance to live my best life. I am truly amazed at what the body can go through & still emerge strong. I feel a greater sense of urgency now to make all of my dreams a reality, no matter what they might be (I even bought a convertible this spring!). I try to stay focused on the controllables in life while minimizing my stress level as much as possible. It is my absolute priority to keep both my body & mind in a healthy place. I am grateful & thankful for every single day I am alive.
Do you have any favorite resources that helped you through your journey?
Honestly my favorite resources that helped me through my journey were several friends of mine that had unfortunately (fortunately only for me!) already been in my shoes. Their guidance and support got me through some of my worst days, and it helped me tremendously to know what to expect at different points during my treatment. In addition to that, I follow a few fellow cancer fighters & survivors on Instagram that share their experiences. It is both saddening and comforting all at once to see other women in your age bracket going through the same things you are. It gave me hope to see them all thrive.