Mary Gooze is taking a dive to raise awareness of metastatic breast cancer.
Today, the 64-year-old woman from Oregon, Wis. will swim across Devil’s Lake.
She wants to educate the public that funds are needed, and swimming across several lakes is generating some publicity and helping her get the word out. Devil’s Lake will mark her 20th swim.
She plans to dive in near the north shore beach at 11 a.m., swimming to the south shore beach. She hopes to arrive around 12:15 p.m.
It’s all about the education, she said. “With all the fundraising that goes on, only 2 percent goes to drugs and treatment for metastatic breast cancer,” she said. “The metastatic community is outraged. We want more. Everybody knows about breast cancer, but they don’t’ know the next step.”
That next step is sometimes a recurrence, which in Gooze’s case happened in her bones. “I was diagnosed in January of 2012 with stage two breast cancer,” she said. “I went through surgery, chemo and radiation for nine months.”
She vaguely recalled her oncologist telling her 20 to 30 percent of women with her kind of cancer have recurrences. “I thought I was done with the whole cancer business,” she said. “But 20 months later, in June of 2014, I was diagnosed with cancer of the hip. It had metastasized to the hip.”
She had been feeling pain in her hip, and a bone scan revealed stage four cancer. Gooze needed immediate radiation therapy, which can make patients feel exhausted. But she had a 2 1/2-mile swim scheduled for the next month. “The first thing I asked was, ‘Can I do this?’” she said. Her doctor told her to go for it, but Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating.
“When we got to the lake there were whitecaps, and I thought I would just get in and go as far as I could,” she said. “So, I got in and started swimming and it was just amazing. I kept going and going and got out on the other side.”
She said that empowering experience “planted a seed in her head” to draw attention to metastatic breast cancer. Her husband Rob helps organize the swims (five in Madison and others in Kansas, Michigan, northern Wisconsin, Minnesota and Washington) and kayaks alongside his wife for support and safety.
Planning and advocating for metastatic breast cancer survivors keeps them both focused. Rob said his wife always has been strong, and this is her way of helping others. “What she is doing doesn’t surprise me,” he said.
Rob said they bring awareness to a disease that, in his wife’s case, is incurable. But they want people to know funds for research could make a difference. “We are always walking that tightrope between hope and reality,” he said.
His wife wants to bring a little dose of reality to government officials. “We are planning a ‘die-in’ for Oct. 13,” she said. Gooze plans to organize people to lie on the Capitol floor in Madison while delivering a short eulogy.
She hopes this demonstration will prompt legislators to look at funding metastatic cancer research, drugs and treatment.