Diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in January 2012, Mary Gooze underwent surgery and nine months of treatment. She returned to some of her favorite activities, like swimming and running. But in June 2014, while training for a half marathon and a 2.5-mile swim, she felt a pain in her hip. A bone scan and biopsy later showed the breast cancer had returned and had spread to her hip. Mary was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer (MBC), an advanced form of the disease.
Approximately 153,000 women in the US live with MBC, and about 30% of women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer will eventually see their cancer return, or recur as advanced or metastatic disease.
Today, Mary continues to do what she loves most: swimming. In fact, it’s through her organization, One Woman Many Lakes, that she swims to raise money and educate people about MBC, and since 2015, she has raised almost $400,000 towards MBC research.
Mary shares her experience with MBC and how she’s been able to provide help for other women living with the disease.
What were your initial thoughts when you were diagnosed with MBC?
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time, my oncologist gave me the news in his office. One of the first things I asked was if I can still do the 2.5-mile swim in Lake Washington in Seattle in two months, which was crazy. But he gave me the OK, so I kept training while receiving treatment.
On the day of the race I remember looking out at Lake Washington, and the water was choppy with whitecapped waves, one of the worst conditions for swimming. With those conditions, combined with fatigue I was experiencing from the [treatment], I wasn’t sure I would finish the race. But, I dove in and I swam across the lake. When I got to the other side, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I beat this lake.’ The feeling of empowerment was so strong and wonderful, I knew I had to keep swimming.
In your experience, how is managing a diagnosis of MBC different from an early stage breast cancer diagnosis?
My experience has been the difference in people’s attitude. When it was Stage 2 breast cancer, people rallied around me, but Stage 4, it’s been completely different. Some people have no idea what I’m dealing with. I don’t look bedridden so they think I must be cured. But the truth is, MBC is currently incurable.
Was there any advice you wish you’d received upon diagnosis?
Take a deep breath and surround yourself with family and a solid group of friends, the people who truly love you – I call them my inner circle. I’ve had friends who shunned me because they couldn’t deal, including those with early stage breast cancer, because I represent what can happen next.
What motivates you to continue to face MBC?
My biggest motivation is my children and grandchild. It is my hope that advocating and pushing for more research funding will one day help find a cure. I’m also doing this for the many women who have died from this disease. Everyone knows about breast cancer, but MBC, that’s the forgotten cancer. We’re not surviving it yet. We need to get the word out because we still need more funding.
Tell us how you got involved in long distance swimming to raise awareness of MBC.
After I completed the swim at Lake Washington, I wanted to do something to raise awareness. Everyone knows about early stage breast cancer and pink ribbons, but people don’t know about MBC. I love swimming, so my husband and I started planning swims to raise additional awareness and funds. Since then, we’ve had swims all over the world, including places like Belize, Antarctica and Ireland. The work that we’re doing--raising funds and educating people -- gives me a sense of purpose.
What have you found to be the most rewarding experience along your MBC journey?
With our organization, we’ve been able to raise money for cancer research centers, where I’ve met with researchers who are dedicated to finding a cure or at least making this disease chronic—that’s rewarding to me.