Albuquerque's Goldfarb Outdueling Cancer
By Ken Sickenger / Journal Staff Writer on Jul. 13, 2011
Lauren Goldfarb prefers to do things herself — as many things as possible.
Take softball, for example.
Goldfarb multi-tasked as a pitcher, shortstop and leadoff hitter at Wellesley (Mass.) College last season. She excelled enough in all three roles to be named a second-team NCAA Division III All-American.
The La Cueva High grad hit .441 and posted a .481 on-base percentage for the Blue, both single-season school records. As a pitcher, Goldfarb finished 8-6 with a 2.40 earned-run average and 75 strikeouts in 87 innings.
Not a bad sophomore season, but she is not entirely satisfied.
"I'm really happy with the way my hitting went," Goldfarb said. "It was like people were throwing beachballs up there. But I'm disappointed with my pitching. That needs improvement in my book."
With that in mind, Goldfarb is squeezing in extra pitching work while she's home this summer. She'll do the same during an upcoming semester in Australia.
"Kind of crazy, but I'll make it work," Goldfarb said.
Don't bet against it. After all, Lauren Goldfarb has accomplished plenty since she was diagnosed to have cancer in 2006.
Since a Journal story chronicled her surgery and subsequent return to sports, Goldfarb has become a standout student-athlete at Wellesley and far outlived a tumor she jokingly nicknamed "Monty." She recently celebrated a five-year checkup, remains cancer-free and is testing her experiential limits.
"I still worry every time she goes in for an exam," said Lauren's mother, Bridget Goldfarb. "Not Lauren. She just tends to go with the flow and take on whatever comes next. That helped her get through treatments and it's helping her now."
Lauren uses softball as a way to reflect on her bout with cancer. There's the "pre-cancer era," the treatment phase and recovery.
Perhaps because she was already an accomplished club-level player, Goldfarb didn't spend a lot of time fretting when a baseball-size lump near her knee turned out to be a synovial sarcoma — a rare type of tumor that grows in soft tissue surrounding joints.
She admits the diagnosis was frightening, particularly for a then-14-year-old. But Goldfarb allowed herself just one day of emotion and tears before seeking a treatment game plan.
"People say they never saw me cry," Goldfarb said. "But I just looked at it as, 'What can I do to get better? What's the next step?' "
It's a pragmatic approach suitable for someone who took up sports at age 4. She got into softball a few years later, carrying on a family tradition. Bridget (then Skasik) and her sister Suzanne won a state softball championship at St. Pius in 1986 and both went on to play in college.
It didn't take Lauren long to find her own success. By 2005 she was pitching her club team to a national runner-up finish.
"She was really at the top of her game when she was diagnosed," Bridget said.
Lauren kept playing through pre-surgical cancer treatments, even earning a spot on St. Pius' varsity team as a freshman.
But a May 2006 procedure to remove the tumor was a physical setback. Surgery left a 5 1/2-inch scar on Lauren's leg and ensuing radiation and chemotherapy treatments sapped her of strength and endurance.
"I didn't do anything physical for months," Lauren said. "I ended up having to retrain my body and it was really frustrating, knowing you can do certain things but your body won't cooperate."
The expense of Lauren's treatments caused the Goldfarbs to withdraw her from St. Pius. She transferred to her home-district school, La Cueva, and played varsity volleyball and softball as a sophomore. Still undergoing treatments, Lauren wore a blue bandana to cover her hairless scalp.
Unwilling to be detoured, Goldfarb attempted to pick up softball where she left off. She pitched for a traveling U-18 softball club team as a 16-year-old in 2007 — with limited success.
"I got knocked around," she says with a laugh. "It kind of sucked at the time, but it made me stronger."
Goldfarb went on to have a solid softball career at La Cueva but noticed her skill set had changed. While her hitting and fielding abilities returned quickly, pitching was another matter.
"In my pre-cancer era I was a rise-ball pitcher," Goldfarb said. "Since then I throw drop balls, curve, screwballs, but I've never had the same rise ball. I'm still trying to get that back."
Goldfarb called her prep pitching "just OK," but her performance combined with a 4.2 grade-point average were more than enough to make her an attractive college prospect. She opted for an East Coast education, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., topped her wish list. A visit to Massachusetts' Wellesley College did not produce love at first sight.
"After an hour at Wellesley, I called my dad and said, 'I want to go home,'" Goldfarb said. "I hated it."
But after weighing scholarships, softball and taking a second look at the campus, Goldfarb decided to sign on with the Wellesley Blue. She's since learned to love the school, even if it has required adjustments.
"Going to an all-women's school in New England is definitely different," she said, "but it's a great school. Softball is one of the biggest changes because the weather's so bad. We practice indoors most of the time and play our whole season in like a month."
Goldfarb was part of a young Wellesley team that finished 24-13 last season. She believes the Blue can challenge for a New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference title and an NCAA berth in 2012.
It comes as little surprise Goldfarb wants to play an even bigger role by improving her pitching next spring. She's made arrangements to compete in Australia's University Games during her upcoming semester of study there. She leaves this week.
Study is yet another area where Goldfarb is trying to do it all. She started as a math major, switched to geo-science and plans to pursue a career in — the FBI?
"I don't know," she laughed. "I want to get into the FBI Academy because I have a cousin in the Secret Service and my aunt is a sergeant in the State Police. Their jobs sound intriguing."
Bridget believes Lauren's encounter with cancer has provided her with a zest for experience. Lauren agreed.
"I changed my major because I'm interested in rocks and dinosaurs," she said, "but I've changed my mind about 1,000 times already because I want to do so many things. I guess that's the beauty of a liberal arts education; it doesn't tie you down."
— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal