Dr. Kathleen Goss joined the American Cancer Society (ACS) in 2021 as the North Central Region Vice President for Cancer Support, following more than 19 years of volunteering with ACS and ACS Cancer Action Network. Dr. Goss launched a research program in breast and colorectal cancer at the University of Cincinnati and moved it to the University of Chicago in 2007. She later joined the administration of the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she most recently served as the associate director for administration. Her personal experience with cancer drives her commitment to cancer research.
What is your cancer story?
Goss: Like most of us, unfortunately, cancer has directly impacted me and my family. When I was in college, my dad was diagnosed with an aggressive type of brain cancer, called glioblastoma multiforme. His health declined quickly after diagnosis, and he passed away only two weeks later. At only 48 years old, his loss was unexpected and devastating to me personally, and to my family. Now that I am older than he was when he passed, I am acutely aware of all he missed and the long-standing impact it has had on all of us.
On a positive note, his loss motivated me to pursue a career in cancer research — not that I fully understood what that meant or where it would take me then. It has been a privilege to honor his memory and legacy while also contributing to the cancer fight in a small way. He was a brilliant scientist himself, and I think he would have been tickled — and very surprised — that I followed in his footsteps.
What’s a misconception about a cancer diagnosis?
There is a misconception by some that a cancer diagnosis is universally a death sentence. We have made tremendous advances in the way we prevent, detect and treat some cancers, improving outcomes significantly. This investment has paid off in countless lives saved. But there are other cancer types, including the type my dad had, in which progress has been much slower, and we still have a lot of work to do because of the complexity of the disease. This illustrates how important it is to keep our foot on the accelerator when it comes to cancer research.
Another significant misconception is that cancer impacts every person and population equally. Everyone’s cancer experience can be diverse, and there are extraordinary differences in the incidence and mortality of some cancers, depending on race, income or geography. Addressing these stark disparities takes a comprehensive approach and a steadfast commitment to achieving health equity.
What helped you most during your experience with cancer?
When my dad passed away, I was fortunate enough to have extensive support from my family, friends and mentors. Channeling that support toward my education and career goals was immensely helpful. Focusing my energy on making an impact in the oncology space has been therapeutic and a way to emphasize the positive rather than the negative.
Why have you dedicated your career to cancer?
Progress in cancer requires all of us coming together, especially those with different backgrounds, expertise and perspectives. I’ve always been driven to contribute to that effort, fueled by my personal connection and the countless patients and families impacted every day. The cancer community is a tight-knit one, linked by a common purpose and a shared commitment to make a difference.
Tell us about your efforts in the field of cancer research.
I trained at Vanderbilt University and the University of Cincinnati where I gained a love for basic cancer research and cancer biology, focused on colorectal cancer. When I started my own laboratory, I decided to focus on the role of those same molecular pathways in breast cancer and how they might be targeted for breast cancer treatment. I’m proud of the work we did over the years, but running an independent academic research program can be challenging, and I ended up moving into administration to use my experience and talents in different ways. I enjoyed supporting cancer research of other investigators while broadening my breadth of knowledge in oncology.
Tell us about your work with ACS.
When I first received a research grant from ACS, I told them I would be interested in volunteering as a speaker or ambassador. That led to more than 19 years as a volunteer in many different capacities related to research, advocacy and public policy, and fundraising. I learned to appreciate the impact the organization and the dedicated staff make every day. Since the spring of 2021, I’ve been fortunate to lead a talented regional team dedicated to working with a wide range of stakeholders to improve cancer prevention, detection, access to high-quality care and survivorship. Foundational to much of this work is addressing the unequal burden of cancer felt by specific populations, including those traditionally excluded.