The only tears on that recent Wednesday came from Maggie Gooze, then only after she was asked about her mother’s terminal diagnosis.
Gooze, 31, is the only daughter of Mary Gooze, a 64-year-old retired teacher who climbed into Lake Waubesa that Wednesday in June in a wet suit and swam almost three miles in an effort to raise awareness and research dollars for metastatic or stage IV breast cancer. Mary Gooze is dying of it—there’s no cure.
Doctors told Mary Gooze last summer that her breast cancer, originally diagnosed in 2012, was outgrowing the ability of medicine to keep it at bay. So she swims lakes, under the banner of “One Woman Many Lakes,” supported by a loyal cadre of friends, neighbors and family. Some swim. Some pace her in kayaks. Others cheer.
Maggie stood on the landing ramp at Goodland Park in the town of Dunn, watching her mother and the gaggle of supporters strike out across the sunny lake. “It’s hard because I see her and she looks great, but when this is all brought up, it’s what reality is. We just keep pushing along.” She wiped at a tear. “I enjoy every day I have with her.”
“She just has this amazing upbeat personality. She doesn’t let anything get her down. We all have our down days and she does, too, but she just figures it is better to be positive about something than to sulk and hide in a corner. She’s always been like that, through everything, her whole life.”
Lake Waubesa was the fourth lake Mary Gooze has swum across this year — the first was in Arizona in March, then Kansas City. Next it was Madison lakes — first Lake Wingra, then Waubesa and Lake Mendota, a swim of more than 4 miles. She is planning a swim in Minneapolis, and next month in Seattle.
“There are times when I’m sad because I think there’s no cure and how many years do I have?” Mary Gooze mused. “Well, the years that I have right now, I have to make the most of them. And that’s why I’m swimming. I’m doing as much as I can. I’m healthy. Somebody asked me if I was going to be swimming next year. And I said, ‘I don’t know. I hope to.’ But when you have a terminal illness, you don’t know if the next day will come.”
She stopped, thought. “It takes the same amount of energy to be happy as to be sad.”
Dean Clinic oncologist Dr. Yamil Arbaje, who is treating Gooze, said the median survival rate for stage IV breast cancer is about three years.
“I think she looks wonderful,” Arbaje said, “and I think she is quite healthy right now. A lot of it hinges on what organs are affected with metastatic breast cancer.
“It is not a very wasting type of cancer if you compare breast cancer with other types of cancer. Like lung cancer, which makes you lose a lot of weight in the beginning. In that regard, she looks well.”
Arbaje said there is tremendous variation in survival rates of patients with metatastic breast cancer. “If only the bones are affected,” he said, “then the median survival rate could be many years. On the other hand, if other organs like the liver or the brain are involved, then the median survival tends to go down.”
Gooze said she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2012. Nine months of the customary surgery, chemotherapy and radiation followed. Then, 20 months after her last radiation treatment, she was told the breast cancer had metastasized to her bones.
“It’s something I have accepted that I have in my body,” Gooze said. “Advanced breast cancer is not curable when it’s at this point. You have to move forward. I have been trying to be upbeat every day. Then cancer hasn’t won.”
She said she doesn’t sleep well these days. The medication she takes gives her insomnia. But her supporters — including her husband, Rob Gooze — are unflappable.
Many started out as neighbors in Oregon — walking their dogs, raising their kids. Deb Moyer, a physical therapist in the McFarland School District, said they all live a short distance from each other. Many get together every Friday for coffee at the Firefly in Oregon.
“We were all with her when she got her initial diagnosis,” Moyer said. “We’ve been with her since Day One.”
Robin Kurtz, who teaches microbiology at UW-Madison, said she has long biked and ran with Gooze. “The cancer came back in her hip, so a lot of activities she used to do — we used to run together and bike together — are harder because there’s been some damage to the hip.”
Swimming, Kurtz said, is easier on Gooze’s body. “I’m her buddy,” Kurtz said. “I swim anyway two days a week in a masters class, and it’s good to have a buddy system when you swim in the lakes.”
Gooze becomes emotional when she talks about her supporters. “Through both cancers I’ve had, they rise to the occasion. When I did the swim at Lake Wingra, there were 50 people that came out to support me. Fifty people.”