Woman with stage 4 cancer swims toward a new goal for her 70th birthday

Mary Gooze has already helped raise more than $1.5 million for metastatic breast cancer research at the UW Carbone Cancer Center with her 'One Woman, Many Lakes' project.
Mary Gooze smiling and flexing muscles in a wet suit in front of a Madison lake
Courtesy of Mary Gooze and the One Woman, Many Lakes Facebook page.
Mary Gooze is living with stage 4 breast cancer and raising money for metastatic breast cancer research.

I first heard from Mary Gooze a decade ago, when I was writing a newspaper column, and Gooze, a retired teacher in the village of Oregon, was turning 60 and had prepared for herself a preposterous to-do list.

At least, it was preposterous to me. I got exhausted just reading it.

Gooze had set a series of 60 goals to accomplish in 2011, all loosely linked to the number 60. They included identifying 60 birds in Costa Rica; climbing 60,000 feet; doing 60 push-ups at one time; visiting six countries; practicing the piano 60 minutes for 60 days; writing 60 letters; and swimming 60 miles.

Tired yet? There were 53 more.

I got a fun column out of Gooze’s ambitious agenda and asked her to keep me posted.

She reported back in mid-January 2012. Gooze shared spirited stories from her adventure turning 60, but said she’d also just received a sobering medical diagnosis.

That news — breast cancer — started Gooze on another journey, which, despite serious setbacks, she has undertaken with characteristic vigor and good cheer.

Over the past decade, Gooze has been swimming in waters near and far to raise funds for stage 4 breast cancer research (her cancer metastasized in 2014). Aided by her husband, Rob Gooze, and an array of supporters and admirers, Gooze has helped raise more than $1.5 million for research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Carbone Cancer Center through her project, One Woman, Many Lakes.

Gooze will turn 70 in June, and her husband has organized an event at Oregon’s Highlands of Netherwood park on June 12 at 7 p.m. to celebrate the birthday and Gooze’s seven years of living with metastatic breast cancer. The public is invited and there is more information on Gooze’s website, including a chance to donate. Gooze’s goal for her birthday celebration: raising $70,000 for research.

I spoke with her last week for the first time in a decade, and we laughed recalling the “60 for 60” project that had put us in touch.

“I don’t know where that came from,” she says. “Now that I look back on it, it seems crazy.”

She did it, though, all 60 goals. Her husband kept track on a spreadsheet. Gooze finished her climbing (60,000 feet) with a glorious trip to the Colorado mountains and got a personal note back from author Bill Bryson after she’d written to six famous people born in 1951, telling them about her adventure.

Rob And Mary Gooze In Arizona 2011

Rob and Mary Gooze in Arizona in 2011.

After her initial breast cancer diagnosis in 2012, Gooze had surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments. It took nine months.

“I thought I was done,” she says. “Wipe your hands of it and let’s go.”

Twenty months later, while training for a half marathon, Gooze began having hip pain. Normal enough for a distance runner, she figured.

Her husband, however, said, “Check with your oncologist.”

She had a lesion on her hipbone. The cancer had spread.

Gooze had planned a long-distance swim that summer in Lake Washington near Seattle, where she has family. Her oncologist said it was still OK. The lake is large, the water was choppy, but she made it, two and a half miles.

“If I can do this,” she thought, “I can beat cancer. Let’s do something about this.”

She learned that while breast cancer is much on the public’s radar, stage 4 research is underfunded. In Arizona the following spring, Gooze went for a swim in Patagonia Lake, but before getting in the water she posted a small handmade sign: “Metastatic Breast Cancer (Stage IV) Needs More.”

The air was warm, though the water temperature was in the mid-50s. Gooze swam two miles. When she got out, a man on the shore approached, incredulous.

“What were you doing in that water?”

Gooze pointed to her sign.

“I’ll donate,” the man said.

“One Woman, Many Lakes” was born.

“We came back to Madison,” Gooze says. “I swam all five lakes and got a lot of publicity.”

In the years since, she has been in the water in Antarctica, Iceland and many places in between.

“I’ve done oceans and rivers and bays and hot springs,” Gooze says. “It should have been One Woman, Many Waters — but that sounds like bathroom issues.”

Last September, Gooze swam in Fifth Lake in Rhinelander, one half-mile — and more significantly, her 50th swim for metastatic breast cancer research.

The Goozes and all their supporters have made a difference. Dr. Howard Bailey, director of the Carbone Cancer Center, is scheduled to speak at the June event in the park in Oregon.

Gooze is in a new clinical trial at UW Carbone — “I got a good report,” she said, on the day we spoke — and has been swimming indoors to stay in shape for more swims benefitting research this summer.

Just where, Gooze is not yet sure.

“We’ll find some place to go,” she says. “If there’s water, I’ll jump in.”

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