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Women's Health

Pregnant mom with cancer fights for her life and baby’s

Gina Samet, with her son, Luke

At six-and-a-half months pregnant with her first child, Gina Samet found a lump in her breast. The diagnosis: HER2-positive breast cancer. All her worries centered on her unborn child: Could he get this from her? What would happen to him during treatment?

Terrified, she scheduled a consultation at a New York City cancer center. But doctors there told Gina her pregnancy made treatment uncertain.

“I never really had any experience with cancer in my life,” says Gina, a high school art teacher. “Your mind automatically goes to the darkest place.”

Then Gina’s mom remembered a friend’s experience with Karen Kostroff, MD, chief of breast surgery at Northwell Health’s Cancer Institute. Gina made an appointment for the next day.

The right doctor with the right plan

When Gina arrived for that first visit, Dr. Kostroff was ending a call with Gina’s obstetrician. “She said, ‘I’m sorry you have to go through this but we’re going to get you through this,’” recalls Gina.

Dr. Kostroff explained how she had handled cases like this before and presented a treatment plan — developed in concert with Gina’s doctors — that focused on keeping the baby safe. Gina would undergo a lumpectomy monitored by the high-risk OB/GYN team, followed by a modified chemotherapy schedule with a break to strengthen Gina’s body before her scheduled C-section.

quotation mark She always treated me like her daughter.
Gina Samet on Dr. Karen Kostroff

“She had the plan set up when I went in,” says Gina. “That’s the confidence you want in your doctor.”

Dr. Kostroff also gave Gina her cell phone number to call with any pain or fear she had. In the ensuing months, Gina called often. “She would talk me through it and I would feel at ease,” remembers Gina. “She always treated me like her daughter.”

Walking cancer free on the runway

Just months after learning she had cancer, Gina and husband Adam welcomed a healthy baby boy at Katz Women’s Hospital at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. One of Luke Samet’s first visitors was Dr. Kostroff.

Now, Luke is a healthy four-year-old who loves puzzles, dinosaurs and running around in superhero costumes. In between shuttling her miracle child to T-ball and karate, Gina is celebrating five years cancer free — and finding ways to help other women with cancer.

Now, Luke is a healthy four-year-old who loves puzzles, dinosaurs and running around in superhero costumes.

When Dr. Kostroff invited Gina to share her story at Northwell’s 26th annual Katz Institute Luncheon and Fashion Show, Gina accepted immediately.

“I was so honored — more honored than I’ve been for anything — not just because she saved my life but because of how she did it and how I felt through the whole process,” says Gina.

Gina Samet hugs Dr. Kostroff at Northwell’s 26th annual Katz Institute Luncheon and Fashion Show

That day at the fashion show, nine women shared their stories of how they overcame cancer and their gratitude for the exceptional care they received at Northwell Health. The event raised more than $900,000 for the development of a new dedicated women's imaging center at Northwell’s Center for Advanced Medicine. It’s the latest step Northwell is taking to fulfill the vision of longtime philanthropists Iris and Saul Katz to create state-of-the-art care that recognizes the unique physiological differences involved in treating women.

“I want women to understand that it can be OK if you have the right people, the right doctors,” says Gina. “I am living proof.”

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