PHOENIX — A 3-year-old girl’s world is filled with reading stories, playing with dolls and taking afternoon naps. Although this is the ideal life for a toddler, Abigail Goss is not your typical 3-year-old girl, and her world is far from normal.
Abigail’s difficult journey began shortly after the Goss family celebrated the new year in 2011. She was sick during the holidays, but because it was flu season, her parents, Aaron and Annabeth, figured it would pass.
A couple of weeks went by, and because of continued lethargy and coughing, Abigail's mother investigated and discovered a lump on her daughter’s neck connected to her collarbone.
After a visit to the emergency room, an X-ray, a CT scan and a series of tests, the doctor informed the Gosses that Abigail had a mass, which eventually was diagnosed as neuroblastoma cancer — a cancer of the sympathetic nervous system.
“Her first month was really touch-and-go, and we didn’t know if we were going to lose her,” Annabeth said. “By the time they diagnose (neuroblastoma) in these kids, they’re already at stage four.”
Because the cancer had spread throughout her entire body, Abigail was at high risk. The disease was in multiple spots in all of her major bones including her hips, skull and femurs.
Because she responded to the first couple of doses to chemotherapy successfully, the Gosses decided to start her on an alternative medicine called Protocel.
The doctors were skeptical of the alternative medicine, but the Gosses wanted to try everything to help Abigail.
“When it’s your own child’s life, you do your own research and whatever you feel is best for your own child, you do,” Annabeth said.
In May of 2011, Abigail had “no evidence of disease.” Although this was great news for her family, the treatments were not over. Abigail was still expected to complete 14 doses of radiation, six rounds of chemotherapy and have surgery on her tumor.
July of 2011 brought frequent trips to New York City and continued visits over the course of many months. There she and her mom visited Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which has a large neuroblastoma team.
In New York, Abigail received treatment called immunotherapy, which worked to teach her immune system to recognize cancer cells. Annabeth and Abigail would stay in New York for a week’s worth of treatments.
“It’s probably the closest thing to child abuse that I’ve ever done,” Annabeth said. “Basically, they found that when they injected neuroblastoma cancer into a mouse, the mouse would develop an antibody to it, so they used the mouse to develop antibodies, and then they infuse that back into the children’s bodies.”
The cancer patients are drugged with narcotics to help alleviate the pain, however, Abigail’s memory of the treatments proved clear when she was playing “doctor” with her siblings, saying things like, “Do you want me to get you a heat pack for your back? Rub this on your back — it helps the pain go away.”
After 19 months of treatment, Abigail’s body finally developed a resistance to the immunotherapy. “No evidence of disease” and completed treatments made for a happy Goss family. Abigail enjoyed five months of semi-normal living at home, but it wasn’t long before another storm hit.
After four days of immense pain and tears, Abigail relapsed into cancer on Dec. 27, 2012.
“When we found out that her disease had returned, it was probably the closest to depression I have ever felt,” her mother said. “As you live in the oncology world, you quickly see other people’s journeys and you see, when a child relapses, death after death after death. So if initial diagnosis is bad, relapse is even worse.”
Although Abigail was enduring plenty of "yucky medicine" and painful treatments, she never fails to trust in her parents as well as the doctors.
"I can be giving her a shot and she'll be crying, but then 10 minutes later she'll love me again," Goss said.
Amidst their trials, the Gosses received immediate support from family, friends and members of their community.
Medical expenses were building up, and the Gosses decided they needed to do a fundraiser — they planned a race called “Run for Abigail and Friends.”
After they received the news of Abigail’s relapse, the Gosses threw the race into the hands of trusted friends. Although it was hectic, the race turned out fantastically, with almost 400 runners and walkers.
In addition to the support for the race, 11 boys from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — who belonged to Aaron's seminary class — decided to shave their heads along with Aaron and Hyrum, Abigail's brother, to support Abigail during her chemotherapy.
“I learned about a year and a half ago that it is almost impossible to be there too much for somebody,” the mother of four said. “People say they don’t want to call or text or bother someone, but even if you call or text somebody that’s having a difficult time, if they don’t get back to you that’s fine, but they still know that they’re being thought of and cared for. When people don’t call, even if they are thinking about you, you don’t know and you feel very alone.”
Being a very religious family, the Gosses have relied heavily on their faith in God to help them maintain a positive attitude about Abigail.
“Having gratitude for what you have right now is one of the biggest keys,” Annabeth said. “Sometimes I just have to stop and say, ‘I have her today. She is happy today. I am grateful for today.’”
Annabeth gives credit to God for getting her through this trial.
“You don’t know how in the world you can feel peace while it’s so horrible to watch your child suffer, and yet you do,” Annabeth said. “When you feel peace, it’s his peace, and that’s the truest peace.”
Inspirational 3-year-old battles for her life
Although playing with dolls is the ideal life for a toddler, Abigail Goss is not your typical 3-year-old girl, and her world is certainly far from normal. This YouTube video highlights the cancer-ridden life for little Abigail, as friends and family run a race to raise money, and local LDS youth shave their heads in support.
Megan Marsden is an intern with the Faith & Family section of the Deseret News. She is currently a junior at BYU-Idaho studying communication.