She may be an accomplished competitive skier, but Maggie Gove, 15, is just as adept at getting up and over mountains as she is racing down them.
Gove is a three-time cancer survivor who has managed to keep up on the slopes and with her studies despite long periods sidelined by surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation for a soft tissue sarcoma. A rising sophomore in high school, she is on pace to graduate with her class. And while many kids her age aren’t thinking past that point, her career goal has long been set.
“I want to be a nurse, and work in pediatric oncology,” says Gove. “I want to be able to relate to my patients.”
Since her first diagnosis, just after turning 11, Gove has endured a series of challenges that have hardened her resolve to keep moving — whether on a mountain, a field hockey field, in the classroom, or at a concert. She appreciates that kids at school have stopped asking her non-stop questions about her health, but also enjoys sharing treatment stories with friends she’s made in the Jimmy Fund Clinic at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.
Even a second relapse in January 2023 could not keep Gove down. Already in possession of a Taylor Swift concert ticket for five months later, she never considered the possibility she’d have to miss the show.
“Maggie has maintained a positive outlook and optimism and perseverance through all of this,” says Natalie Collins, MD, PhD, Gove’s doctor at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s since she started treatment. “She’s a star.”
This star first entered Collins’ orbit in April 2019. Gove began experiencing a series of on-and-off stomach aches near the end of fifth grade, and when the cramps grew especially intense on May 2 her parents took her to the emergency room. Scans revealed a clementine-sized tumor on Gove’s right ovary, and she was rushed by ambulance to Boston Children’s Hospital — where the ovary was removed in overnight surgery. Pathology on the tumor confirmed it was cancerous.
“All of it was happening so fast,” Gove recalls. “It was my first time getting blood work, my first time in an ambulance, and my first time seeing the inside of an emergency room. I was very stressed out.”
From these anxious beginnings, Gove quickly became a seasoned veteran when it came to her cancer care. She started 60 weeks of aggressive chemotherapy on May 19, and after her hair fell out she chose to return to school bald that fall rather than wear a wig. That next winter, when she felt strong enough, she skied as much as possible.
It was during this period that her parents noticed their only child taking a special interest in a particular vocation.
“She would see a nurse, and the first thing she would say is, ‘So, where did you go to school? What did you do? What were your major challenges or interests?’” Gove’s mother, Denny Gove, says with a laugh. “There was always a huge conversation, The nurses were like her buddies in there.”
Maggie also formed a close, ongoing bond with her oncologist Collins, who has a daughter close to Maggie’s age.
“I think the fact she is a younger doctor really helped, because she knew what to talk about with me,” says Gove. “If I’m confused about something, she always makes it a point to make it easier to understand. So I’m involved with my treatment, and know what’s going on.”
Scans showed no signs of cancer after seven months of Gove’s initial treatment, and she had her final maintenance chemotherapy on July 9, 2020. She then remained cancer-free for nearly two years, until another tumor was detected in her left ovary. This ovary was also removed in March 2022, but Gove did not need to undergo chemotherapy this time.
Fresh off cancer-free scans in October 2022, Gove started 2023 on the highest note possible when her friend Sarah surprised her on New Year’s Day with a ticket to the Friday, May 19 Taylor Swift concert at Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium. On January 13, however, came back pain and another emergency room trip.
The cancer was back, this time in Gove’s pelvis. And when she had her initial conversation with Collins after this latest recurrence, one of the first topics to come up was Taylor Swift.
“Maggie said, ‘I’ll do whatever you tell me to do, but this is an important day for me, and I really want to be able to go,’” recalls Collins. “I got it, because it was a big event in my house too. I have a daughter who is definitely into Taylor Swift, and she had tickets for the Saturday show.”
A plan was quickly conceived. Although Gove would once again miss a good chunk of her ski season due to 24 weeks of chemotherapy infusions, as well as 30 radiation treatments, she would not miss that May 19 concert. Collins and nurse practitioner Amber Miller, CNP, even rearranged Gove’s radiation start date from mid-April to mid-May, so that the cumulative effects of the daily sessions would not weaken her too much to fully enjoy the concert.
“We sometimes forget how young Maggie is, because she’s so mature and is able to put what’s important first,” says Miller. “She’s a strong teenager who doesn’t let cancer become her life.”
And, when it turned out that Gove’s first radiation session fell on the very same day as the concert, she worked that out too. She had treatment early on the morning of May 19, after which her mom Denny drove her home, picked up Sarah, and brought them both to Foxboro.
“It was truly a whirlwind going from radiation that morning, but so, so worth it,” Gove says. “Taylor’s show was unbelievable. I would go again in a second if I could.”
No matter what mountains stand in her way.