Cass Gonzalez: Following a path of passion and positivity

Cass Gonzalez travelled the world and explored nature anywhere she could find it. An Australian, she’d moved across the world to be with the love of her life. She was positive, gentle, smart, funny, and committed to living life on her own terms.

Her life took a massive detour on July 21, 2017 – her 42nd birthday. She’d been out at dinner with her husband Dave when severe abdominal pain led to an ER visit. Doctors told Cass that, despite not having previously experienced any symptoms, she had a rare, aggressive cancer in multiple organs, her bones, and her lungs, and had only two months to live.

Before that evening, Cass’ passions had dictated her life’s path. Having earned a degree in environmental science, she was travelling abroad and visiting friends in San Francisco, when she met Dave, a kindred spirit and fellow traveler.

After what Dave describes as “a lot of emails, letters, and expensive phone calls,” he quit his job, sold his car, and moved to Australia so the couple could spend six months travelling. Dave and Cass were married in 2002.

They initially settled in Boulder, where the beach girl from Australia quickly took to the mountains. The couple shared endless outdoor adventures, often with their Australian cattle dog, Coen. Their work eventually brought Dave and Cass to Redwood City, where they both found rewarding careers and a whole new natural world to explore, from the coast to the mountains.

With her sudden diagnosis, Cass became dedicated to finding ways to fight her cancer, from radiation and chemotherapy to integrative and complementary treatment. She focused her positive energy on healing, and continued her long-time meditation practice.

Cass shared her experiences, gratitude, sadness, and perspective at “Most times, I don’t care that I have an ‘incurable’ disease,” she wrote. “It’s not what matters to me. What does matter is the way I choose to meet each day, and how I connect with those I love and that love me.”

Despite her initial prognosis, Cass lived what Dave calls “a pretty full life” for well over a year. Still, the tumors continued to grow throughout her body.

By October her symptoms had become more intense, and her doctor and social worker at the Stanford Cancer Center both recommended Mission House. The Woodside house – very near their home in Redwood City – had just opened. As soon as he saw the house, Dave said he “knew it was meant to be – it was so Cass.” Her room opened to the garden, full of flowers and hummingbirds.

Dave stayed with Cass at all hours, sleeping on a cot in her room. “That first week, the weather was spectacular, with blue skies and sunshine,” Dave remembers. “We spent every day outside in the back yard.”

Family came to visit from all over the world. “We basically took over the house. It was really special to have this place to be together,” Dave says. “The staff at the house were incredibly loving and patient.”

In her final blog post, Cass wrote, “I accept that cancer will one day outlast me physically, and I will concede my body. However, I define what my journey means to me, and how I choose to walk it each day that I’m able.”

On November 17, just weeks after she arrived at Mission House, Cass died as she lived: on her terms, and surrounded by her family.

“The experience was personal, and loving, and everything that you would want it to be,” says Dave. “Right in the midst of something so horrible, it was the best possible scenario. We felt blessed to have that happen.”