55°F
weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman shares story of cancer fight

Updated October 7, 2019 - 1:28 am

For Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, the worst part of her second breast cancer diagnosis wasn’t telling her four children she was sick again a decade after her first diagnosis.

It wasn’t the infection during chemotherapy that made her so weak she couldn’t stand up, let alone attend her own re-election party.

And it wasn’t losing her hair, her energy and hours at a time sitting in a chair as a chemotherapy cocktail dripped into her veins.

It was the fear of the unknown that came when she knew she was sick but not how sick. The fear that enveloped her in the interval between initial diagnosis and prognosis, before her doctors could tell her whether the cancer had spread and how far.

Goodman, 80, recalls wondering, “Do I have a month to live? Where is it in my body?” as she lay in bed at night, sleep eluding her.

“The anxiety that you undergo at that time is probably the worst part of anything,” the mayor said in her first extended interview about her cancer treatment and recovery since her diagnosis in January.

“I wasn’t ready to go to the next level,” said Goodman, who feared she would die. “I have four beautiful children who are married, six grandchildren, a sister and extended family.

“But most importantly, I have the man I’ve been married to for 57 years, and we’re just like one soul together. … He doesn’t know how to change a lightbulb, fix a sprinkler, put a picture on the wall, cook. Well, he can cook a few meals. That was my biggest concern.”

Oscar Goodman, who preceded his wife as mayor, said he “couldn’t breathe” when he heard the diagnosis.

“I love her more than life itself,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s a mutual worrydom.”

‘Switch turned on’

Carolyn Goodman said that once she had the “total truth” of her illness, a “switch turned on” that shifted her focus and eased her anxiety.

“I knew I had a job to do, to run a city and make it the best, and to be as effective as I could,” the mayor said.

“I’m a very practical person,” she continued. “I want facts, and I want truth. Truth is extremely important to me, almost to the point of sickness. Tell me the truth and I can handle it.”

As the facts became clear, Goodman learned she had a 2-centimeter cancerous growth in her right breast, and there was cancer in a lymph node in her right armpit, Dr. Karen Jacks, Goodman’s medical oncologist at Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in a separate interview.

In 2009, Goodman had been diagnosed with a type of breast cancer that grows in response to estrogen. The stage 1 cancer in her left breast was treated with surgery — a lumpectomy, which removes the tumor but not the entire breast — along with radiation and five years of anti-estrogen therapy, Jacks said.

This time, Goodman had found a small lump during a self-exam less than a year after her last mammogram. She wasn’t particularly concerned at first, but she went ahead and moved up her annual checkup in anticipation of campaign season.

When Jacks saw her patient, she felt the mass and sent Goodman “for a diagnostic study and ultrasound and all those things that go along with figuring out what’s going on with a patient.”

Testing determined it was a stage 2 breast cancer, which meant it was still at an early stage. But it was triple-negative breast cancer, a potentially aggressive type that isn’t fueled by estrogen, progesterone or a protein called HER2. Fortunately, the cancer had only spread to one lymph node.

Leaning on family

Fighting the cancer quickly became a family affair.

“He was compassionate, kind, encouraging,” Goodman said of her husband, a former defense attorney for organized crime figures who perhaps is better known for being colorful, controversial and unrelenting.

“He could be quiet, just everything I needed,” she said.

“Mr. Goodman was there every step of the way,” Jacks agreed. “Every appointment he was there, holding her hand.”

The mayor said it “broke her heart” to tell her adult children — a daughter and three sons, one of them a medical oncologist at Comprehensive Cancer Centers — about her diagnosis.

“I don’t care how old they are. They’re still your children,” she said.

Goodman first got the news that she had cancer and would need more tests Jan. 10, the day of her State of the City speech. By late January, she was receiving chemotherapy.

“I felt very confident in the team that I had and the plan that was there,” she said.

In part because of the cancerous lymph node, Goodman’s treatment plan included chemotherapy before surgery. “We wanted to address it very aggressively,” Jacks said.

Jacks treated Goodman with four cycles of chemotherapy, which shrinks tumors by targeting rapidly dividing cells such as cancer cells but also affects hair cells. Goodman’s daughter, Cara, began investigating “cold capping,” a process in which a patient wears a helmet-like cap with gel coolant that chills the scalp before, during and after a chemotherapy session. For some patients, the process reduces hair loss and impact on the scalp.

Cara assisted her mother with cold capping during her treatment, but the mayor still lost most of her hair.

“As my hair began to come back, I credited her with that it did,” the mayor said.

Goodman said one thing that “totally amazed” her during her treatment was that her hair began falling out on exactly the 17th day of chemotherapy, just as predicted. She said she began wearing wigs, and the idea of wig shopping became a running gag with her husband.

“Oscar said, ‘Could you get me a toupee?’ … That became sort of like fun. It became positive instead of negative. He asked me just the other day, ‘What ever happened to that wig you were going to get me?’ I said, ‘Well, we haven’t really looked. What color do you want? Do you want a nice long wig?’ ”

Failure not an option

Goodman, who was first elected mayor in 2011 after her husband’s third term, said she discussed with Jacks whether she should seek a third term. Jacks said there was no reason she shouldn’t and many reasons she should.

“Mayor Goodman’s ultimate goal was to come out on the other end and continue to be the mayor of Las Vegas,” Jacks said. “I told her we would get through this. I didn’t see any reason why she couldn’t run for another term. Having a goal and having something to look forward to on the other end is extremely helpful for patients.

“I truly believe that patients in their normal frame of mind and in their normal state of affairs fare way better than those that just sit around and think about what’s going on with them.”

Jacks praises Goodman for showing mental toughness. “There was not a question that she was going to do this and to rock it. Failure was not an option. Complication was not an option. Putting aside what she does on a daily basis was not an option.”

Despite her positive mindset, Goodman did encounter a complication in her fourth round of chemotherapy — one that limited her activity for several weeks.

She developed a urinary tract infection that landed her in the hospital for a few days, where she received intravenous antibiotics, Jacks said. “It was serious enough for me to put her in the hospital and to watch her very, very closely.”

Chemotherapy suppresses the immune system, making it more difficult to fight off infection, so Goodman “needed to be home for a few weeks to recover because she was ill and, on top of that, fatigued from the chemotherapy,” Jacks said.

Goodman recalled missing three weeks of work. “The legs didn’t work. The arms didn’t work. Nothing worked,” she said. “I could barely stand.”

The timing was such that Goodman was unable to attend her own election night watch party April 2, when she was won her third term in a landslide.

‘Totally blessed’

The chemotherapy — once every three weeks for three to three-and-a-half hours — began at the end of January and was completed in May. The next step in treatment was surgery by Dr. Josette Spotts — a lumpectomy and removal of the involved lymph node.

“We found out at the time of surgery that the chemotherapy had worked tremendously well, and there was no sign of cancer left,” Jacks said. “It was quite a phone call to get to make to her. She was just absolutely elated.”

“I was totally blessed,” Goodman said.

Dr. Raul Meoz then treated Goodman with a course of radiation to the right breast and armpit to kill any lingering cancer cells. The radiation was done five days a week for six-and-a-half weeks. Each session took about five minutes.

Goodman’s treatment was completed in August. For now, she’ll continue to see Jacks once every three months. After a couple of years, the appointments will be cut back to every six months.

“She had an early-stage breast cancer treated completely with chemotherapy,” Jacks said. “She should do really well. If you look at the tumors that respond the way hers do, survival without disease at five years is 85 percent. She’s not likely to have a recurrence.”

Goodman said she wanted to share her story during Breast Cancer Awareness Month to provide an example of a Las Vegas medical success story — one in which she received treatment “in a very compassionate but thorough manner” without leaving the Las Vegas Valley.

“I did not have to run to California or back east,” said Goodman, the daughter of a New York City obstetrician-gynecologist. She takes pride in her role in building a medical district in Las Vegas and in the growing medical reputation of Las Vegas. She pointed out a window in her City Hall office to the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health as an example.

“I was brought up with the tradition that, when you hear the C-word, you’re in an impossible situation,” Oscar Goodman said. “I’ve since learned that with your attitude, with her great care by Comprehensive Cancer and the doctors there, her willingness to do everything that needed to be done to beat it, it can be beaten.”

The former mayor also believes the genuine concern, well wishes and prayers of community members made a difference.

“When I tell them that she’s cancer-free, they beam, as if something good happened to them,” he said.

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Accused murder mastermind Frank LaPena is granted a pardon - VIDEO
A onetime Las Vegas casino bell captain who spent 25 years in prison as the accused mastermind in a notorious 1974 contract murder won his last legal battle for freedom Wednesday when the state Pardons Board granted him a conditional pardon restoring all his civil rights. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Middle: Nonpartisan voters and the 2020 election
How will the growing segment of nonpartisan or independent voters — those who have not registered with either political party, or who have left partisan politics behind — vote in 2020?
Tomi Lahren Speaks at UNLV - VIDEO
Fox News contributor and UNLV alumna Tomi Lahren returned to campus Wednesday night for a speech, titled “Stay Triggered,” that drew an auditorium of supporters as well as a group of protesters outside. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders released from Las Vegas hospital - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issues a statement after he was released from Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. (Bernie Sanders via Twitter)
Democratic presidential candidates speak on impeachment - VIDEO
Democratic presidential candidates attending the March for Our Lives/Giffords Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas comment on possible impeachment proceedings. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden Las Vegas Rally Highlights - VIDEO
2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, came to Las Vegas to talk guns, climate change and the Ukranian-Trump scandal. Biden was interrupted by a protestor who sat amongst supporters at the rally and continued with his speech. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden comments on Trump and his campaign efforts in Nevada - VIDEO
After an impeachment inquiry was opened on Donald Trump, Joe Biden talks with Review-Journal politics reporter Rory Appleton about Trump and his campaign in Nevada. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Entertainment Videos
Views of the first Las Vegas Pizza Festival - VIDEO
The inaugural Las Vegas Pizza Festival, held Nov. 16 at the Industrial Event Space, drew 1,500 pizza lovers to sample the wares of 20 local pizza makers. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Golden Knights documentary premiere brings out emotions - VIDEO
A couple of thousand ticket-holders braved marathon traffic and road closures to arrive at T-Mobile Arena three hours before game time to watch the long-in-the-works documentary. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon attracts 35,000-plus runners - VIDEO
More than 35,000 are registered to run in this year’s marathon or half-marathon. They’ll start their journey at 4:30 p.m. and conclude it under the neon lights on the Strip. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Heather Bray, as Elvis, wins women’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon - VIDEO
Heather Bray completed the 26.2-mile course Sunday in 3 hours, 13 minutes for her first marathon victory. She had run in two others, posting faster times in both. But the costume was heavier than her usual workout garb. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bobby Flay Celebrates 15 Years Of Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace
Bobby Flay talks about his Mesa Grill restaurant at Caesars Palace celebrating e its 15th anniversary. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Smoked Sazerac at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Las Vegas
Chase Jefferies, a bartender at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Las Vegas, makes a Smoked Sazerac by shaking Hennessy, Bulleit Rye, Pernod Absinthe, maple syrup and Peychaud’s Bitters with ice, then filling a snifter with applewood smoke and pouring the drink over an oversized ice cube. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Red Rock Canyon free to all Monday for Veterans Day - VIDEO
In honor of Veterans Day, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is free to all visitors on Monday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Artist dedicates heart sculpture on Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Artist Katy Boynton dedicated her sculpture depicting a giant steel heart to the Las Vegas community Saturday night outside Fashion Show mall. (James Schaeffer /Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Warm Salt-Roasted Beets at La Cave Wine & Food Hideaway in Las Vegas
Chris Yamauchi, sous chef at La Cave Wine & Food Hideaway at Wynn Las Vegas, roasts fresh beets for three hours, peels, cubes and chills them, then sautés them with butter, sherry vinegar and black pepper and tops with goat cheese and pistachios. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
O.J. Simpson files lawsuit against The Cosmopolitan over TMZ story - VIDEO
A lawsuit filed Thursday alleges that The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas defamed O.J. Simpson when hotel employees told TMZ he was kicked out of the casino “for belligerence” in November 2017. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Smith Center will now be charging $5 fee to park - VIDEO
Patrons now have to pay to park to attend events at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown, continuing a recent trend in the Las Vegas Valley. (James Schaeffer / Review-Journal)
Prove you're a local: Try to pronounce these Nevada cities - VIDEO
Try your hand at pronouncing these Nevada cities and watch as other locals from Downtown Summerlin attempt to get the names right along with you. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making Cochinita Pibil Tacos at Santos Guisados Tacos & Beer in Las Vegas
Lola Vasquez, a cook at Santos Guisados Tacos & Beer in Las Vegas, makes Cochinita Pibil Tacos by rubbing a pork shoulder with signature seasoning, marinating it in a mixture of achiote, peppercorns, clove, cumin, salt and fresh lime and orange juices and roasting overnight. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal )
Joey D'Ambrosio talks about playing on "Rock Around the Clock" - VIDEO
Saxophonist Joey D'Ambrosio, who lives in Henderson, was a member of Bill Haley & His Comets. “People were looking for something new,” D’Ambrosio said. "When they heard ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ there was something about that record that turned them on.” (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nation’s Largest Student Farmers Market
600 students participate in massive farmers market, Oct. 23,2019. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giant Student Farmers Market in Las Vegas
The largest student-run farmers market in the country involved 600 kids from more than 50 schools in the Las Vegas area selling fruits and vegetables grown at their schools. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ryan Reaves beer special in the Las Vegas Arts District - VIDEO
James Manos of Able Baker Brewing talks about offering a Golden Knights game-day promotion to celebrate partner Ryan Reaves at its Main Street tasting room. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas native Ethan William Childress of "Mixed-ish" - VIDEO
Interview with Las Vegas native Ethan William Childress, a young star of the new ABC comedy "Mixed-ish." (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review -Journal) @bizutesfaye
Sourdough Cafe at Arizona Charlie’s in Las Vegas makes horseradish potato chips - VIDEO
Sean Gassaway, room chef at the Sourdough Cafe at Arizona Charlie’s Decatur in Las Vegas, makes horseradish potato chips by heating prepared horseradish to remove some of the moisture, mixing it with kosher salt and further dehydrating it, tossing it with house-made chips and serving it as a monthly special with a bratwurst on a roll, sauerkraut, spicy mustard and a cup of cheese dip. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Central Perk coffee shop opens for business
As part of Saturday’s “Friends” Fan Experience at New York-New York hotel-casino, the artist Nathan Sawaya debuts his life-size, 700-square-foot re-creation of the show’s Central Perk coffee shop that’s constructed entirely out of Lego bricks. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Binion's debuts a spinning bar overlooking Fremont Street Experience - VIDEO
Binion's debuted its spinning bar inside the Whiskey Licker Up Saloon. The Rotating bar only goes at one full rotation per 15 minutes overlooking the Fremont Street Experience. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Green Eggs and Ham at Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas
Scott Simon, executive chef at Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas, makes a Green Eggs and Ham Flatbread with pistou, smoked mozzarella, tasso ham and eggs. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Lemon Semifreddo Dessert at Vetri Cucina in Las Vegas
Ashley Costa, pastry chef at Vetri Cucina at the Palms in Las Vegas, freezes lemon curd with whipped cream, sandwiches it between polenta-based crumiri cookies, sprinkles it with powdered sugar and drizzles it with argrumato, a lemon olive oil. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Las Vegas supermarket has a full-service wine and beer bar - VIDEO
Smith’s Marketplace on Skye Canyon Park Drive draws 300 people a day to socialize in what has become a neighborhood gathering spot. (James Schaeffer/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hard Rock Memorabilia Exhibition
The 2,600-square-foot exhibit, which is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays to Mondays through Jan. 31, spans eras and genres alike. There are numerous rare and never-before-seen items here, featuring artists from ZZ Top to Nine Inch Nails, Bo Diddley to Britney Spears. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Museum of Selfies coming to Las Vegas - VIDEO
The interactive attraction offers several new selfie opportunities. (Museum of Selfies)
Show of Strength in 'A Choreographers Showcase' - VIDEO
"A Choreographers Showcase" pairs artists from Nevada Ballet Theater and staff from all facets of Cirque du Soleil to design an annual show. (Elizabeth Page Brumleyy/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
David Chang talks about what to expect at his new restaurant, Majordomo Meat & Fish - VIDEO
David Chang tells fans what to expect at his new restaurant, Majordomo Meat & Fish, at The Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pink Lady and Rosey Mary cocktails at Therapy in Las Vegas
Terence Beach, bartender at Therapy restaurant in Las Vegas, makes original pink cocktails to benefit breast cancer research. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Torrijas dessert served at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill in Las Vegas
Chef Christian Lee of Sugarcane at The Venetian in Las Vegas makes a dessert of torrijas, a Latin French toast, serving it with a caramelized-apple sauce and cinnamon ice cream. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Health officials find possible cause of vaping illness

U.S. health officials announced a breakthrough Friday into the cause of a mysterious outbreak of vaping illnesses, reporting they have a “very strong culprit.”