For the past five years, Oregon resident Mary Gooze has been on a quest to educate people about metastatic breast cancer and raise funds to find a cure for the fatal disease.
She’ll continue the education part of her mission Saturday when she, another woman diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer and their oncologist compete as a relay team in the Wisconsin Triterium Triathlon.
Gooze, a 67-year-old retired teacher from the Oregon School District, will swim a quarter-mile, her friend Erin Jacobson, of Spring Green, will cycle 11 miles and their oncologist, Dr. Yamil Arbaje, will run five kilometers. The race takes place at Fireman’s Park in Verona starting at 7 a.m.
Unlike similar efforts that have seen her swim miles across lakes to raise funds and awareness, Gooze isn’t swimming next week to raise money but only to increase people’s understanding of the disease, which kills an estimated 40,000 people annually in the U.S. alone.
She said most people haven’t heard of metastatic breast cancer and aren’t aware that it’s different from breast cancer, which itself is not lethal.
“It’s still amazing to me how when you’re in the middle of something, you think everybody knows,” she observed. “But when you step outside the circle you find out that people still aren’t aware of what this disease is.”
Gooze launched her One Woman Many Lakes’ swimming campaign in 2014 after learning the breast cancer she’d been diagnosed with two years earlier had metastasized. She joined with others in the Stage IV community to advocate for more research toward a cure and shine a light on a disease that most people don’t know much about.
In 2015, at age 64, Gooze swam more than 25 miles in 23 lakes – including five in Dane County – in her campaign to garner publicity in hopes of educating the public. She raised around $200,000, sending $109,000 to METAvivor, a national organization that funds stage IV breast cancer research, and nearly $90,000 to the American Cancer Society.
She’s continued the effort annually and plans to keep going as long as she can – or until a cure is discovered.
“Last year alone we raised $500,000 for the More For Stage IV fund for the UW Carbone Cancer Center,” Gooze wrote in an email to the Observer. “One hundred percent of all donations goes directly into research.”
She was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2012. She underwent nine months of treatment that involved surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. At the end of those nine months, Gooze thought she was cancer-free. But 20 months later, during an examination for hip pain, she learned the cancer had metastasized to her bones and some organs.
Gooze thinks there has been slow, incremental progress is the fight against metastatic breast cancer. One of the things she’s trying to change is get more money dedicated to researching metastatic breast cancer, because only about 10 percent of research dollars go toward studying the lethal form of the disease.
“The funding tends to go toward awareness of breast cancer in general and not to the research or treatment of those already diagnosed,” she observed. “I’m not sure why. Years ago, people simply died too quickly, so there wasn’t an uproar. But now that people are surviving longer, people like me are standing up and saying we are still living and thriving for a longer time and we need more money and research.”
Gooze said despite some setbacks, she’s feeling hopeful as more drugs are coming out because of the Stage IV research.
“It’s looking more promising but we’re not there yet,” she said. “There could be a cure out there for me, and if not, I have a daughter and a granddaughter. So I’m working toward the next generation. If I raise awareness today and get more money towards metastatic breast cancer research, I could eventually be saving my daughter’s or my granddaughter’s life.”
To learn more about Gooze’s campaign, visit her website: onewomanmanylakes.org.