A Lake Oswego woman with breast cancer and her husband make strides to empower others
Cary Goldberg was just another young mom transitioning from urban to suburban life when she encountered a pea-sized problem.
More specifically, a smooth, round lump in her right breast that moved around when she pressed on it.
Cary, 34, thought the lump was a leftover from pregnancy and breastfeeding. Her husband Matt, however, thought she should get a doctor's opinion.
Cary's annual exam last fall confirmed the unthinkable: She had invasive ductal carcinoma, an aggressive Stage 3 cancer that had a high probability of spreading to her reproductive organs.
Surviving the following year would require four months of chemotherapy, five major surgeries and six weeks of radiation.
Life as the Goldbergs knew it had suddenly changed - but it wasn't over. Cary decided that she could lose her hair, breasts, ovaries, uterus and lymph nodes to cancer, but she was determined not to lose her life.
'A lot of people don't realize that if you're under 35, (breast cancer) is a very different disease,' Cary said. 'The odds of dying are much higher.'
To empower others to join her fight, she formed 'Cary's Community Chest,' a team that will walk united behind Cary through downtown Portland Sept. 23 in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
The team includes about 20 other local mothers Cary befriended since the Goldbergs moved from New York City to Lake Oswego in 2005.
Cary met most of them through the Community Arts Preschool at the Lakewood Center, where her 5-year-old daughter Natalie once attended school.
Throughout the last year, the women rallied around Cary and Matt by offering to watch Natalie and her 2-year-old sister, Lindsey, when times got tough.
'I watched the support grow around me and it was amazing,' Cary recalled. 'The girls were able to keep going to ballet and other activities because the moms made it happen.'
With the help of Cary's Web site, the team plans to raise $10,000 or more to help find a cure for breast cancer. It is already one of the event's top four fund-raising teams this year.
Cary will continue to undergo specialized treatments and scans for one more year. At this point, the Goldbergs try to focus on living in the moment and not look past today.
'Our lives have changed forever in terms of how we look at the world and our place in it,' Matt said. 'In that way it's a blessing. I can't say with a degree of honesty that we had that before.'
Meanwhile, Matt - a bankruptcy attorney and commercial litigator - hatched a plan to create a legal support process for low-income breast cancer patients.
Through Cary's fight with cancer, Matt has witnessed the problems that disadvantaged breast cancer patients could encounter, such as insurance company disputes or loss of employment.
'It could be a matter of life and death,' said Matt, a graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School.
His goal is to form a group of lawyers who will give pro-bono counsel and continuing legal education to patients in need.
His own firm, K and L Gates in Portland, provided a very flexible approach to the federal Family Medical Leave Act during Cary's illness.
Matt was able to watch the girls, keep up with his career and be by Cary's side through chemotherapy treatments and surgery - a luxury many families can't afford, he said.
'I thought about how much a difference it could make to have a supportive employer like that,' Matt said.
To form the Breast Cancer Legal Advocacy Project of Oregon, he began contacting lawyers that run a similar program in Seattle. Many of them asked why such an organization had not been established sooner in Portland.
'It's an evolving process that we're trying to figure out as we go along,' Matt said. 'So far, people seem very supportive of the idea.'
With the help of the American Bar Association's Committee of Women in Profession, Matt hopes to begin phasing in the plan by December.
First, his firm will co-sponsor a training session to teach volunteer lawyers how to best represent patient clients. By the end of 2008, Matt hopes to begin offering free legal assistance and connect patients with lawyers.
'It's nice to have something I can do to help after watching her go through so much this past year,' Matt said.
Matt, a native New Yorker, and Cary, a native of Vancouver, Wash., hope to make the best out of a bad situation. They talk frankly about the disease and their own personal struggles.
Cary's Web site - which offers a poignant insight into her treatment highs and lows - has become so popular she will write an article for Baby Talk magazine based on her entries.
She's also honest and upfront at home, where her inquisitive and observant daughters Natalie and Lindsey ask questions about her changing appearance or why their parents are sad.
When Natalie asked, 'Why am I the only kid at school who has a bald mommy?' Cary explained that she had cancer and that it could make her very sick.
Cary also likes to introduce Natalie to cancer survivors so she can see it's possible to have cancer and survive.
'If I'm willing to talk about it it's also helped her deal with it,' Cary said.
Natalie and Lindsey have played an important role in keeping spirits high and offering the occasional comedic relief.
Dealing with cancer while raising two young girls was exhausting for Cary, who had to tend to their needs before her own.
Nevertheless, she feels fortunate that she had her daughters before her diagnosis. Other young women aren't as lucky, she added.
Cary's looking forward to watching her girls grow up and her plan is to live 50 more years, even though it's turning out to be a bigger battle than she first realized.
Last week, Cary pondered whether she would cry as she dropped Natalie off for her first day of kindergarten at Bryant Elementary School.
'I would have cried before, but now I'm happy to be there and be part of it,' she said. 'I want to see many more of those milestones. I used to never want to get older. Now, I can't wait to be 40.'
If you are interested in supporting Cary's Community Chest or reading Cary's blog, visit www.caringbridge.com/visit/cary .
For more information about the Portland Race for the Cure, go to www.komenoregon.org/Race_for_the_Cure .