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Meet Rachel Goldman: A remarkable story of courage and resilience

Courage to Come Back: New West woman recognized for her inspiring journey with chronic illness
An inspiration: New West resident Rachel Goldman is the recipient of the Coast Mental Health Foundation’s 2023 Courage to Come Back Award in the medical category. photo Avi Dhillon

A New West woman hopes her story offers hope to folks who are struggling with chronic illnesses.

Rachel Goldman is the recipient of the Coast Mental Health Foundation’s Courage to Come Back Award in the medical category. Awards were announced at the Courage to Come Back awards dinner on June 9.

“If my story can speak to just one person who has felt the unending loneliness, helplessness and disappointment of chronic illness, then my struggle can be a force for hope,” she said in a news release.

Born with Common Variable Immune Deficiency, Goldman’s life has been a constant stream of illness, infections and hospitalizations.

“It means a lot,” she said of the award. “I’ve struggled my whole life with chronic illness, and I’ve definitely had good times and bad times. To be recognized for something I have to work at every day really hard, to get up and be present, to do my best and to have courage to continue to keep going – it means a lot.”

Diagnosed with Common Variable Immune Deficiency at 18 months, doctors initially believed Goldman would outgrow it by the time she was 10 or 12 years of age. That didn’t happen.

An illness of the immune system, the condition impacts Goldman’s ability to fight infections. As a result, she has faced a lifetime of chronic illness and pain – including pneumonia, bronchitis, kidney infections, anaphylaxis, anxiety, anorexia and bulimia.

And while Goldman’s illness has impacted every aspect of her life, she refuses to be a victim. Despite missing months of high school, she graduated and received scholarship offers for 11 universities. A gifted singer, she recorded multiple CDs in her late teens and early 20s.

From 2007 to 2017, she worked as a producer at TSN 1040.

“It was the greatest job you could ever have,” she told the Record. “I had always wanted to be a broadcaster. Always. My whole life.”

Goldman’s health, however, had started to deteriorate after having her two kids and her doctors advised her not to work any longer. Her current treatment regime includes giving herself a weekly infusion of immunoglobulins, via four needles in the stomach.

Recently, Goldman’s immune system has begun to reject the antibiotics that are needed to keep her alive. She has fought endless infections.

“It’s complicated,” she said. “There’s not a lot of research and there’s not a lot of information. I’ve actually never met another person who has the same thing that I do. Never.”

In 2011, Goldman went to a hospital in Israel to undergo treatment for her condition. She returned to Israel in January 2020 for a follow-up treatment, but three days in to what was supposed to be a month-long stay she was told she needed to return to Canada.

“They didn’t really give us a reason other than ‘You need to go home.’ Turns out, it was COVID, obviously. So I never finished. I never got to start any treatment. We didn’t finish, even, all of the testing,” she said. “So at some point, I would love to be able to go back and finish what I started there and hopefully be able to do some of it here in Vancouver as well, in Canada, and then hopefully regain some of my life.”

Despite her own ill health, Goldman home-schooled her kids for 22 months during the pandemic, something that helped avoid bringing any viruses home from school.

“COVID, as terrible as it is and it was for my family and for me, it actually gave me a rest from the hospital,” she said. “I had been in this constant loop of every six weeks needing to be readmitted to the hospital with a new infection. It actually was the longest time that I was in one place with my family without being ill for years.”

Because she can’t risk being exposed to any viruses, Goldman has essentially been on lockdown since the start of the pandemic.

“It’s still to this day an issue. I am still not allowed to do, I would say, three-quarters of what everybody else has sort of gone back to doing in their normal life,” she said. “Like, I can’t take my kids to school. I couldn’t go and watch my daughter’s dance show. I’m receiving this award, and I can’t go in person to receive the award;I have to do it virtually.”

Now that the weather is getting nice, Goldman hopes she’ll be able to have very distanced outdoor visits with friends she hasn’t seen in a long time.

“This award has happened, and I’m hoping my life takes a different path now,” she added. “Maybe I can advocate for others who have chronic illnesses.”

Goldman lives in New Westminster with her husband Geoff McLennan their two children, aged 10 and six-and-a-half.

“My two kids and my husband are everything to me. I feel so blessed and so lucky to have such an amazing family,” she told the Record. “And we sort of just figure it out together.”

Despite her health challenges, Goldman said she tries to stay positive – for herself and for her family.

“I want to be a good example for my kids and show them that despite adversity, despite everything being thrown against you, you don’t throw the towel in, right? You keep going, you keep fighting,” she said. “Yes, my life does not look like what I’d ever imagined it to, but it’s worth it and it’s worth something. I want them to know that if I can do it, so can so can they.”

Coast Mental Health Foundation states that Goldman “is such an inspiration, and her story is one of true courage in the face of adversity.”

Goldman said she’s never really talked about her illness publicly, but she hopes the award will allow her to do some good.

“I have an amazing life. It might not seem like that to people outside. But for me, like, my life is filled with love and meaning, and I feel lucky,” she said. “I have an amazing family. And I do have meaning in my life. And if you know, I am not able to do anything ever again, well, at least I have love and I have my family.”