Gwyn lang ross had no history of breast cancer among her immediate family so when she was diagnosed at age 41, she was shocked by the news. “I never dreamed I’d have to deal with it,” she said.
Ross, 45, discovered a lump but since she had recently had a mammogram told herself it was probably a cyst. Her boss at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, breast surgeon specialist Dr. Donald Hopkins, insisted she get an ultrasound followed by a biopsy.
On Valentine’s Day 2011 she was told that she had an aggressive form of breast cancer that was in stage three.
“Immediately my doctors referred me to the oncologist,” said Ross. “I opted for a double mastectomy. We scheduled surgery the next week.”
Her career in the health care industry gives Ross a unique perspective on the disease, its treatment and its impact on patients.
She has worked as manager of Memorial Hospital’s eight clinics in her native Hancock County since 2014. Before that she managed private physicians clinics and Memorial Hospital’s physicians clinics in Gulfport for 24 years.
“I saw people do so well in treatment,” she said. “Years ago you didn’t hear so many people surviving for so long. The advances have been amazing.”
Ross underwent six months of chemotherapy with three different drugs and a year of targeted therapy for the rare HER2 protein gene that was detected.
It was a two-year process, including 33 radiation treatments. A year after her treatment, Ross started the reconstruction process which was completed in 2013, and the next year she transferred to the job managing the MHG Hancock County clinics. The move was part of her fresh-start healing process, she said, which still continues.
“I go every 12 weeks for checkups, lab work and yearly scans. That’s my life for the next 10 years,” she said.
Ross, who is married, has four children and is a grandmother, never missed a day of work during her illness and recovery or missed any activities her children were involved in. “Every day I put my feet on the floor I said, ‘It’s not going to stop me from being involved with anything I need to be involved in.’ I was very blessed.”
Ross recently went for her yearly checkup and got the all clear. “It’s been a roller coaster,” she said. “You never know when it’s going to sneak back. I live with the fear but I leave it in God’s hands.”
Ross is an advocate in the fight against breast cancer, volunteering with the American Cancer Society and helping to organize the Hancock County Relay for Life to raise funds and awareness.
“I speak to patients who are newly diagnosed on behalf of the Cancer Society,” she said. “They feel so much better, talking to someone who’s been there.”
She advises women to avoid reading too much about breast cancer on the Internet, where what they may find might do nothing but “scare the hell out of you” because every case is different.
“I tell them to listen to what the doctors are telling you,” she said. “My oncologist, Dr. Allison Wall, keeps a close watch on me. That also helps having your physicians so invested in your care.”
One thing Ross does emphasize is the importance of having a positive attitude. “You have to choose how you want to approach it, not let it run you,” she said.
She also stresses the importance of mammograms and checkups. “Early detection saves lives,” she said.
Her faith also is important in helping her get through her fight against cancer. “God plays a big part in my life and always has. Without that I wouldn’t have that attitude.”
After everything she has been through, Ross sees breast cancer as “just a bump in the road” and keeps focused on the future.
“I know it could come back any time but meanwhile I keep on living,” she said. “Sometimes I’m so busy with life that unless I see a scar, I forget it happened. I don’t let it rule my life.”