Patient to ride 50-mile route 10 months post-op

Mary Nell Goolsby
Because Mary Nell Goolsby has a rare cancer, research is an especially big deal to her.

Mary Nell Goolsby knows how to take on a challenge. It’s why she decided to ride 50 miles just 10 months after an extensive surgery to treat her rare cancer.

Her son, Turner Waldrup, 26, and her brother, Lee Goolsby, 47, will ride double that.

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.

She learned she’d have to have Whipple surgery, a procedure that 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.

“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 chemotherapy, which caused her to temporarily 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.

Training for the ride keeps her positive and engaged in a healthy lifestyle. “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."