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Whipple Warrior: Patient To Ride 50-Mile Route 10 Months Post-Op

Mary Nell Goolsby

Mary Nell Goolsby looks forward to riding in LOWVELO.

Come Nov. 2, Mary Nell Goolsby will be climbing on a bike to ride 50 miles. Her son, Turner Waldrup, 26, and her brother, Lee Goolsby, 47, will ride double that.

For Goolsby, who still is recovering from major surgery to treat a rare cancer, it’s ambitious. It’s also intimidating. Mostly, though, it’s energizing.

It gives her and her family and friends a way to bond in the fight against a disease that has wreaked havoc in Goolsby’s life this year. It also lets them support cancer research as 100 percent of rider-raised funds go to Hollings Cancer Center.

LOWVELO means more to Mary Nell Goolsby than any bike ride ever has. The donations from the ride directly impact her life.

“Research is a really big deal to me right now, not just because I have cancer, but because I have a rare cancer,” Goolsby says. “I think we’re so fortunate that we have MUSC and Hollings here.”

Goolsby used to ride her Peloton bike for an hour a day, averaging 20 miles. In January, a cancer diagnosis brought her rides to a screeching halt.

A day after ringing in the new year, Goolsby noticed her urine was extremely dark and her bowel movement was white. Two days later, her palms were abnormally itchy. As a practice administrator at Mount Pleasant Internal Medicine, she was busy working and, as so often happens, didn’t think to tell anyone what was going on.

“Over the weekend, I got very sick. By Monday, Jan. 7, I had jaundice and excruciating itching all over,” Goolsby says. “So, I went in, and as soon as Dr. Susan Jones walked in the office, I said, ‘There’s something wrong with me.’”

After a magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP), which views the bile and pancreatic ducts, Goolsby was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

She had two options – do chemotherapy before and after Whipple surgery or have Whipple surgery before chemotherapy. The Whipple procedure involves removing the head of the pancreas, the beginning of the small intestine, a portion of the stomach, the gallbladder and the bile duct and reattaching the remaining organs to allow for normal digestion after surgery.

If she did chemotherapy before the surgery, the cancer could grow and make her ineligible for surgery.

“My immediate response was I have to do this for my children. I have to go ahead and have the surgery,” Goolsby says. “Being told you’re going to have Whipple surgery after you learn about it is pretty scary.”

William Lancaster, M.D., performed Goolsby’s Whipple surgery on Jan. 24 at MUSC. Goolsby felt strong after the surgery, standing and doing laps around the recovery floor, and didn’t have many of the common issues after the extensive surgery.

“I think a lot of that is the skill of Dr. Lancaster. I just cannot sing his praises enough,” Goolsby says. “I’m actually kind of proud of my Whipple scar. It will always remind me of what I went through.”

Post-surgery, Daniel Reuben, M.D., Goolsby’s oncologist at Hollings Cancer Center, changed her diagnosis from pancreatic cancer to stage 3 distal cholangiocarcinoma, also known as bile duct cancer. While the change in diagnosis was for the better, distal cholangiocarcinoma is rare, with little known about it. Goolsby couldn’t help but wonder – why her?

“When you receive a diagnosis like that, it’s like, what have I done? What could I have done differently in my life so that I wouldn’t have this?”

But Goolsby has learned the most important part to surviving cancer is staying positive. Even as she goes through eight rounds of oral chemo, which caused her to momentarily lose her fingerprints, cancer has shown Goolsby who and what matters.

“You just realize how many friends you have, and how important it is to make a positive impact on other people’s lives because before I didn’t see an expiration date anytime soon in my life,” Goolsby says.

One way she wants to make a positive impact is by participating in the inaugural LOWVELO bike ride with her family as her team, appropriately named the Whipple Warriors.

“Cancer has brought my family closer together. Everybody wants to do things together more,” Goolsby says. “Everybody’s seeing the importance of family and how much they love you.”

Dr. Scott Thompson, one of Goolsby’s employers, and his wife Nancy Thompson have also joined her team. Each will ride 50 miles with Goolsby to show their support for her and Hollings Cancer Center.

Before her diagnosis, Goolsby was more than happy to work all day at the job she loved. But cancer made her realize she didn’t have hobbies outside of work. Now, along with swimming in the ocean, her biggest hobby is biking. She’s back to riding her Peloton bike, building up to how she rode before her surgery.

“It’s something else to think about,” she says. “You have to wake up every day and have something to look forward to.”

While the 50-mile route seems intimidating, LOWVELO has given Goolsby positive momentum.

“I definitely want to enjoy my life right now while I can,” she says. “I can’t focus on the end. I want to focus on here and now and enjoy life.”

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