• Cancer

    Dancing through complex care during COVID-19

Twin Cities journalist Sonya Goins, like so many, has been coping with the challenges that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as working remotely and not being able to see family and friends. If all of that weren't difficult enough, for the past year, she's also been battling breast cancer and Crohn's disease at Mayo Clinic.

Watch: Dancing through complex care during COVID-19.

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"Even though bad things happen to you, you don't have to take it and be down about it. I try to be uplifting," says Sonya.

Spending even a few minutes with Sonya, one can't help but notice her perpetual positivity. However, what people don't see is the behind-the-scenes battle Sonya is fighting for her health.

"2020 was not a good year for me," says Sonya. "In January 2020, I had my colon removed due to Crohn's disease. And then seven months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer."

Knowing she would need surgery and ongoing treatment, Sonya came to Mayo Clinic.

"Sonya came to see us for HER-2-positive breast cancer," explains Dr. Karthik Giridhar, Sonya's supervising breast oncologist at Mayo. "HER-2-positive breast cancers are generally a little bit more aggressive and they grow a bit faster than other hormone-receptor-positive HER-2-negative breast cancers. But nowadays, we have fantastic targeted treatments against these breast cancers."

The other factor making Sonya's case more complex was her Crohn's disease.

"Certainly having two complex medical processes automatically makes things more challenging, particularly because a lot of the targeted cancer treatments that we give cause a lot of diarrhea. And, so, we were nervous that some of the treatments we might give would aggravate her Crohn's disease," says Dr. Giridhar.

Sonya's care team took an individualized approach to her surgical and ongoing treatment.

"We're able to integrate our treatments with our colleagues in Medical Oncology and Radiation Oncology, so that we work together as a team," says Dr. Tina Hieken, a Mayo Clinic surgeon.

In January 2021, Sonya had successful bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, and then began radiation and continued targeted therapy. 

Dr. Giridhar says Sonya also was connected with gastroenterology to ensure her Crohn's was under control. Thankfully through surgery and into her treatments, her Crohn's has not flared up.

"It's scary for a number of reasons. One, you go through the treatments by yourself. At the start of the pandemic, I couldn't have anybody with me," says Sonya.

"Sometimes when I'm in that radiation room, and they've got this mask on your face to hold your head straight during treatment, and I'll have tears streaming down my face because I'm praying. I'm praying that they zap these cancer seeds away. And I'm praying that God heals my body. And I'm praying I survive this."

Even through the most difficult of times, Sonya has found strength to stay positive and even connect with her loved ones afar.

"I started doing these TikToks to assure my family that lives, you know, outside of Minnesota that I'm doing OK," she explains. "After each chemo session, I would do a little fun dance. The day after I had my mastectomy, I actually did one in my hospital room."

Not only does Sonya use social media to share her story and encourage others to do self-breast exams and other preventive screening, she also sees the value of getting involved in research.

"She's got a vaccine study that she's interested in participating in that hopefully will decrease the risk of recurrence for patients with her particular type of breast cancer," says Dr. Hieken.

"I'm excited because that could potentially save my life down the line because this type of breast cancer has a high reoccurrence rate," says Sonya.

In April, Sonya completed her primary radiation treatments. "I'm alive. I'm very blessed. Even with this breast cancer diagnosis, I feel incredibly blessed, especially to be able to get, you know, great treatment here," says Sonya. "I know God's got me, so I'm going to be OK."


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Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date

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