The other side of cancer

Kristen Moss at Emory Health

The last time Kristen Moss graced the pages of Emory Health (Winter 2009), she had just finished chemotherapy for an aggressive form of breast cancer, known as HER2. This October, she marked her 22-month anniversary as a breast cancer survivor.

“When all of this started, when I was 40,” Moss says, “I had this big fear that I was going to look like a monster for the rest of my life. But my doctors took me apart and put me back together again. By looking at me, you’d never guess that I’ve had breast cancer. I call them my dream team.”

Moss’s multidisciplinary team at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute included surgeons Sheryl Gabram and Albert Losken, who performed a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, and medical oncologist Amelia Zelnak, who directed Moss’ chemotherapy treatments. “Getting these three together was something,” Moss says. “We connected medically and personally. We talked about more than my treatment. We talked about life, our kids, our passions. That made them real, reachable, touchable.”

Moss also benefited from participation in a clinical trial at Winship. Soon after her cancer was diagnosed, she was enrolled in a study that tested a combination of chemotherapy drugs formulated for the specific type of tumor she had. As Georgia’s only National Cancer Institute designated cancer center, Winship is able to offer patients advanced treatments and clinical trials that are unavailable elsewherein the state.

Throughout her cancer journey, Moss has had the support not only of her doctors but also of her children. Her son, McKinley Alden, was the one who shaved her head before she started chemo, spent the night with her at the hospital after her first surgery, and made sure she was eating properly—despite her lack of appetite. Her daughter, Kayley Alden, held her hand during pre-op and accompanied her to Winship for doctors’ visits and infusion treatments. In fact, Kayley, 19, a sophomore and music major in college, can still be found at Winship, working as a volunteer, filing records for medical oncology, or offering snacks to patients in the infusion suite.

Moss continues to take tamoxifen to prevent her cancer from coming back, and she returns to Winship every three months to make sure she is cancer-free. “I take comfort in knowing that my doctors are there, ready to help,” she says. “Where else could I walk into an appointment and get a big hug? For as awful as it was to have cancer—the pain, the infusions, the baldness—my doctors made it as positive an experience as possible.

“Every once in a while, I wonder what if the cancer comes back, and those bad feelings creep back in,” she says. “I let them stay for a moment, then I push them away. I just keep on going.” –Rhonda Mullen

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