D-FW swimmers are making big waves in the fight against cancer

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Allison Field had been a competitive swimmer in her youth, but she had not entered a meet in years when her foster daughter, Deanna Stearn, was diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a series of four surgeries, Deanna — herself a mother of six — was fortunate enough to enter remission.

Amazed, as she describes it, by Deanna’s “incredible courage and grace,” Allison desperately wanted to honor her struggle and encourage her in her fight. That’s when a friend of Allison’s in Seattle happened to mention an open water swim she was hoping to participate in — one in which the scoreboard didn’t tally points or times but showed how much money individual competitors had raised. This meet was sponsored, this friend explained, by Swim Across America (SAA), a philanthropic organization whose mission is to unite people through benefit swims that raise funds for cancer research.

Intrigued, Allison did her homework on the organization and discovered that, in partnership with Baylor Scott & White Health, they were also sponsoring a meet near her, at Lake Ray Hubbard in Rockwall. Allison recalls thinking to herself, “Oh my gosh, I want to do that.” She immediately signed up and started training for the event.

Allison admits that, being an open water swim rookie, “I had to overcome a huge fear factor just to get into the lake.” But her admiration for Deanna and her memory of her father Charles Bell, who lost his life to leukemia, helped Allison endure. With every stroke she took the day of the meet, she kept SAA’s mission in mind. “In our lifetime, one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer,” Allison says. “I joined the Swim Across America community so that, together, we can change that.”

On Sept. 22, 2018, amateur and professional swimmers from across D-FW will once again gather at Lake Ray Hubbard for this very special event. In 2017, North Texans raised over $350,000 by sponsoring athletes at this fundraiser. As in years past, all proceeds from Swim Across America’s Dallas Open Water Swim  will go toward improving early cancer detection and conducting clinical trials of innovative treatments for this deadly disease.

The Swim Across America story begins in 1985. Cancer survivor Jeff Keith and his childhood friend Matt Vossler had just completed the Run Across America, an eight-month journey that took them from Los Angeles to Boston and saw them personally raise over $1 million for cancer research. Inspired, Jeff and Matt shared their passion with fellow swimmers in Nantucket, Mass., convening the first Swim Across America meet there in 1987.

In the 31 years since, SAA has raised over $75 million for cancer research and collaborated with some of the best cancer care facilities in the U.S. — including the Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center, home of the Swim Across America Innovative Clinical Trials Center (ICTC). 

Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center has been at the forefront of cancer research and treatment for nearly 40 years. They offer compassionate, comprehensive and personalized care for patients suffering from all types of cancer. Of particular benefit to cancer patients are the clinical trials the Sammons Center conducts. These trials routinely focus on those cancers, such as multiple myeloma and refractory colon cancer, which have resisted standard therapies.

Dr. Carlos Becerra is medical director of the Swim Across America ICTC and interim chief of oncology for Baylor University Medical Center. He also happens to be a former competitive swimmer who leads “The Baylor Salmons,” a team of physicians who suit up every year for Swim Across America’s Dallas meet. According to Dr. Becerra, “these preliminary studies are critical to laying the groundwork for exploring new targets for treating otherwise deadly diseases such as pancreatic cancer. Thanks to funding from Swim Across America, our scientists have been able to take discoveries from their labs and test treatment concepts in the clinic, providing patients at Baylor University Medical Center with novel therapies that they would not have access to otherwise.”

SAA CEO Rob Butcher concurs, describing his organization as “an angel investor that provides seed money for investigative research so that the field’s brightest minds can pilot ideas, collect data, expand their research and obtain funding for additional trials. We want to speed up new investment and breakthroughs.”

While donors have already been generous with their pledges for the 2018 Swim Across America — Dallas Open Water Swim, more help is needed to reach, much less exceed, this year’s fundraising goal of $250,000. Individuals can get involved in one of several ways.

  1. Donate. You can make your donation to an individual swimmer, a swim team or directly to SAA.
  2. Participate in the swim itself, regardless of your age or skill level. Most adult swimmers are required to raise at least $500 by Sept. 22, but current college undergraduates and swimmers under the age of 18 need only raise $200 to enter. All participants can choose to complete a half-mile, one-mile or three-mile course.
  3. Volunteer to help ensure swimmer safety. SAA’s Safety Director is actively recruiting lifeguards, individuals able to pilot support kayaks and land-based, ship to shore radio operators.

Help turn the tide in the fight against cancer. Help Baylor Scott & White Health and Swim Across America strengthen the life-saving collaboration they’ve sustained over the past eight years.

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