One Woman, Many Lakes: Swimming to Raise Awareness for Metastatic Breast Cancer

Metastatic Breast Cancer Heroes™, CURE® Metastatic Breast Cancer Heroes™ 2021 Essay Book, Volume 1,

A retired teacher with breast cancer is recognized for her dedication to raising money and awareness for metastatic breast cancer by swimming across as many lakes as possible.

What does it mean to live one’s life to the fullest with stage 4 cancer when there is no cure in sight? In late summer of 2015, I was introduced to Mary Gooze. I knew Mary had terminal breast cancer and was swimming in every lake she possibly could to raise awareness for this disease. The diagnosis was grim, and Mary and her husband, Rob, felt the best chance of hope was to raise money to go directly to late-stage breast cancer research on a local level.

Mary, a retired teacher, had received a breast cancer diagnosis and was treated in 2012. Twenty months after Mary’s initial diagnosis, she was training for one of her now-routine swims when she was told her cancer was back — and it had metastasized. As she entered the water, Mary felt stronger and stronger, giving her the idea to start an initiative called One Woman, Many Lakes. The goal: to raise awareness, to educate and to raise much-needed funds for research.

After several meetings with researchers and clinicians at the University of Wisconsin (UW) Carbone Cancer Center, the Goozes put all their philanthropic and fundraising efforts toward the More for Stage IV Fund, which they created at UW-Madison to open more opportunities for survival for women like Mary.

Six years after we met at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, the Goozes have raised $2 million for stage 4 breast cancer research, funding new projects on immunotherapy, liquid biopsies and improved treatment options for patients with stage 4 disease. They have provided funding for over 75 researchers and engaged the community to rally around this often-overlooked cause.

Through her swims, Mary has met politicians, journalists and other patients thriving with stage 4 breast cancer who are inspired by her. She has encountered community members who ended up holding private fundraisers in their homes. Mary also now holds onto the spirits of young women she’s connected with who have sadly passed away — women like Heather McManamy, whose obituary went viral and who wrote, “Cards for Brianna: A Lifetime of Lessons and Love from a Dying Mother to Her Daughter.”

Mary has swum in lakes as far away as Ireland, Iceland, Kauai and as close as Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin — all in the name of raising money and awareness. Before she enters the water, she says a few words about why she is swimming and always ends her talk with the benediction: “Research is our best hope.” A lot of people with this swimmer’s diagnosis would stay home and rest. Maybe they would do a little virtual fundraising. But taking to the lakes is a unique and personal spin on shedding a light on Mary’s disease.

Through these adventures, Mary has influenced and inspired so many other women with stage 4 cancer who have taken on fundraisers of their own — all for the More for Stage IV fund at the cancer center. Numerous women have been inspired to raise money for their birthdays, with one setting a goal to raise $40,000 for her 40th, and another woman attempting $50,000 for her 50th. Both surpassed their goals. Meanwhile, Rob and Mary have always been open to matching a certain amount during these fundraisers. They decided to raise $70,000 for Mary’s 70th this past summer.

On top of that, Rob surprised Mary on her 70th birthday by establishing a $2 million endowment in their names to a breast cancer oncologist who will now focus on metastatic breast cancer research in his lab.

Anyone who encounters the Goozes leaves inspired and with hope. Mary has mentored so many others who have a similar diagnosis. They go to the nation’s capital, peer-review breast cancer research and are active in so many ways. After one meeting with a gym owner, the gym held a night of awareness for their fund, several of their attorneys hosted a fundraiser at home, a group of volleyball players organized a tournament and a group of artists did an art show with proceeds going to More for Stage IV. This is just a small sample of people in our community who have been touched by Rob and Mary’s story.

While Mary is living with this, it does not define her. She and Rob continue to travel all over the world, hiking and swimming, kayaking and fishing. They are also involved in many other organizations, Rob having been the president of the Madison Rotary, on the board for Special Olympics and treasurer for Three Gaits, a therapeutic horseback riding nonprofit. The couple also support the Madison libraries, the Madison housing nonprofit Porchlight and the American Red Cross.

Metastatic breast cancer research is underfunded because a lot of research dollars go to prevention and early-stage cancer. Through the More for Stage IV fund, we have been able to advance our knowledge and research of this devastating disease and bring that same hope to patients across Wisconsin and the world.

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