Making Waves with Hope: “Uncertainty and Adversity” with Craig Beardsley and Rowdy Gaines

Hope Header2Making Waves with Hope is a series of inspiring messages by leaders in the Swim Across America community. Olympians Rowdy Gaines and Craig Beardsley had earned their spots on the 1980 USA Olympic Team when uncertainty struck. The US boycotted the 1980 Olympics and in an instant, the dreams of both—and hundreds of others—were washed away. Fast forward three decades to the postponement of the 2020 Olympics. Rowdy and Craig offer their wisdom to dealing with uncertain moments. Rowdy and Craig were guests on “Pitch The Rhino” podcast. Give it a listen here: bit.ly/PTRPodcastCR.

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Craig Beardsley on Recovering From What You Can’t Control:

“One of the things that I learned from what happened in 1980, and this is a life lesson for me, was that I did everything I was supposed to do getting ready for ‘80, and then things changed. And I learned that sometimes you can do everything you’re supposed to do but sometimes things are just out of your control. That happens in life. And when that happens you have to just learn how to recover from that and move forward.”

Rowdy Gaines on Current Athletes Finding Motivation Despite Postponements:  

“The most important thing is our health and wellbeing. So, these decisions that came down were the right decisions, it doesn’t make it any easier. It’s just like in 1980, at the time I felt like, ‘Okay I’m going to support my country’ and it felt like the boycott was the best way to answer the Russians that had invaded Afghanistan, but I didn’t like it. It still was devastating. It still hurt me. And I think that it’s okay to be vulnerable right now. I think it’s okay for these athletes to feel anger, the emotions of going through denial first, and then anger, and then sadness and depression, and then acceptance. And sooner or later you’re going to have that acceptance and be able to move on. And it will make you stronger, it will, I guarantee you at the very best it will make them stronger, because in the end, after acceptance for me, was motivation.”

Craig Beardsley on Being Your Best and Obstacles:

When they announced the boycott, I wasn’t the world record holder at the time, I still had something to prove to myself more than anybody else that I could be the best. So I didn’t allow that to derail me as much as maybe some of the other people. I just felt compelled that I still had to prove something, to everybody and myself that I could be the best, and that I trained for that, and I wasn’t going to let anything get in my way of being the best at this point.”

Craig Beardsley’s Advice on Training and Focus:

“Something that I learned directly from experience is if you’re training and all you’re doing is training, try to have something else in your life that you can focus on. And not just fun stuff, but something that you actually have to focus on that you can remove yourself from the sport because it will help you and it will give you room to breathe, and you’ll look at the sport with fresh eyes instead of getting burned out by it.”

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BIOS

Craig Beardsley was heavily favored to win the 200m butterfly as a member of the 1980 Olympic Team, only to be forced from competition when politics intervened, and the US boycotted Moscow’s Summer Games. Between 1980 and 1983, Craig held both the World and the American Records in the 200m butterfly, and he won Gold at the Pan American Games in both 1979 and 1983. A nine-time US National Champion, Craig captured another Gold in the same event at the NCAA Championships while an All-American at the University of Florida. Beardsley is currently the Swim Across America Director of Partnerships. 

“Rowdy” Gaines  held 11 World Records during a four-year span in the 1980s. At the age of 25, Gaines won three Gold Medals in the 1984 Games in L.A., including the 100m free in which he set a new Olympic Record, .45 seconds shy of his own World Record. Rowdy also swam on the Gold-Medal winning 400m free and 400m medley relays, both which set World Records. In 1984, he was named World Swimmer of the Year. During his education at Auburn, Rowdy was a five-time NCAA All-American and honored as the Southeastern Conference Athlete of the Year. In 1996, Gaines became NBC’s Olympic Games Swimming Commentator, filling that role in all Olympics and major competitions since. Gaines has also been an Olympic Ambassador from Swim Across America since our organization’s inaugural swim in 1987.

Swim Across America Thanks Healthcare Workers at Local Beneficiaries

Swim Across America is finding ways to continuing supporting local beneficiaries during this challenging time. Local leadership has been donating meals to selfless healthcare workers at our beneficiary institutions as they continue putting themselves at risk to serve and protect all of us during this crisis. Our unwavering commitment to support our beneficiaries remains, and now more than ever we stand by each of them.

SAA – Houston

MD Anderson Cancer Center

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Swim Across America – Houston treated the Pediatric and Brain & Spine Teams at MD Anderson Cancer Center to lunch as a way to express their sincerest appreciation for their service.

SAA – Dallas

Innovative Clinical Trials Center – Baylor Scott & White Health

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A big thumbs up from Dr. Becerra after the Swim Across America – Dallas team brought “Taco Tuesday” to the staff of the Swim Across America Innovative Clinical Trials Center at Baylor Scott & White Health.

SAA – Long Island Sound

NY Presbyterian Hospital &

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Swim Across America – Long Island Sound has been busy reaching out to their beneficiaries and scheduling these meal drop-offs. The SAA – LIS team brought breakfast to the nurses at the front line in the Urgent Care Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering. They also provided lunch to the ICU team at NY Presbyterian Hospital.
A huge thank you to all healthcare workers for your courage and unselfish commitment to patients and the communities you serve!

 

MAKING WAVES WITH HOPE: HOW MATT VOSSLER INSPIRED A MOVEMENT

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Making Waves with Hope is a series of inspiring messages by leaders in the Swim Across America community during this uncertain time. Matt Vossler is a Founder of Swim Across America as well as a current board member and this is his story.

The secret to non-profits that make an impact is a mission that resonates and volunteers who give their time, talent and resources to the mission. During Volunteer Appreciation Week, it’s gratifying for us to share the story of a volunteer who inspired the Swim Across America movement that has given hope to so many.

Over the past decade, there has been a wave of advancements in cancer detection and cures, such as immunotherapy. These new promises have given hope and the precious gift of time to those battling cancer.

But for the cures to occur, there needs to be funding. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that Matt Vossler’s vision for Swim Across America – to fund cancer research – has directly saved lives.

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Matt at SAA–Fairfield County overseeing safety.

More than simply saving lives, our world has been made better because of the new treatments to fight cancer. These new treatments aren’t limited by age, gender, ethnicity, geography or even cancer type.

Because of research, children surviving cancer are graduating from school. Because of research, parents surviving cancer are walking their sons and daughters down the aisle. Because of research, grandparents surviving cancer are cherishing more holidays with their families.

Cancer first appeared in Matt’s life when his childhood friend Jeff Keith was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma at 12-years of age. To save Jeff’s life, his leg was amputated. He then underwent 18-months of chemotherapy.

UNSELFISH

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Jeff Keith, Matt Vossler, Hugh Curran running into LA in 1985.

Jeff and Matt finished high school in Connecticut. They both went to Boston College where they were roommates and played college lacrosse. After graduating from BC, Jeff recruited his friends Matt, Hugh Curran, Paul Tortora, Tracy Fitzpatrick and Jeff’s brother David Keith to join him on Jeff Keith’s Run Across America. The friends put their professional lives on hold for a year as they served a greater calling of supporting Jeff’s charity run. The run took 9-months and raised close to $2M for the American Cancer Society. It was documented in this video series.

VISION

The charity run completed on February 18, 1985. Jeff stayed in LA to attend graduate school at USC. Matt returned home to Connecticut to work in the family moving business.

Back home, Matt was stirred to do something more. He shared in this NY Times story, “I was thinking of some way to keep the idea alive – something physically challenging to raise money and help people out.” In the 1980s, popularity in triathlons was growing spurred by Julie Moss’s iconic crawl to the finish of the 1982 Hawaii Ironman.

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Matt’s drawing of the 1987 logo.

The characteristics of grit and determination it took to complete an Ironman were the same ones Matt thought it would take to complete an open water swim. And so on August 1, 1987, approximately a dozen swimmers and their families boarded two boats at Port Jefferson, NY for what should have been a 17-mile relay swim across Long Island Sound. Why do we use the word “should”? Because one of the boats accidentally sank. The swim finished and the boat is still at the bottom of the sound.

That 1987 charity swim raised around $10,000 which was granted to St. Vincent’s Medical Center to benefit cancer patients. It was a far cry from the nearly $2M that was raised on the charity run.

It would have been reasonable to give up the charity swim idea and go back to charity runs that were less risky and offered more upside. But to Matt, and others at the charity swim, there was a challenge to swimming that had similarities to the challenges cancer patients, and their families, experience.

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The newspaper headline from the first swim across the sound.

So undeterred, the friends returned to Port Jefferson in 1988 for the second annual Swim Across the Sound. This time, they had some help from Olympians Craig Beardsley, Rowdy Gaines and Steve Lundquist.

VISIONARY

In the 1990s, Matt led the name change from Swim Across the Sound to Swim Across America. The name change was a reflection of the “Making Waves to Fight Cancer” movement that was spreading to new communities with charity swims in Boston, Chicago, New York City and Nantucket.

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Matt and Craig Beardsley at SAA-Boston.

The name change also signified Swim Across America’s commitment to funding cancer research with an intentional focus on immunotherapy, which in the 90s was considered novel or “quack” medicine.

On March 25, 2011, a revolutionary breakthrough in the way cancer is fought occurred when the FDA approved Ipilimumab (brand name Yervoy), an immunotherapy treatment for patients with melanoma. The Swim Across America Research Lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering was a significant funder of the research and clinical trials that lead to the FDA approval.

On March 25, 2017 another immunotherapy breakthrough occurred when the FDA approved pembrolizumab (brand name KEYTRUDA). The Swim Across America Research Lab at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center was one of the primary grant funders of the research and clinical trials that helped with this FDA approval.

For 2020, Swim Across America is funding $6M to more than 55 cancer research projects at 27 beneficiary hospitals.

Matt Vossler’s vision of charity swims that fund cancer research has become a movement that thousands of volunteers support every year.

Servant Leader

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Matt with Dr. Sam Katz and SAA–Fairfield County event directors Michele Graham and Lorrie Lorenz

Even with these deserved accolades, if you attend the Fairfield County charity swim (20-minutes from where Matt and his wife Pam live), you’ll find Matt leading the water safety team.

At the inaugural Denver charity swim two years ago, Matt was one of the early birds setting up registration and checking in participants and fellow volunteers.

When we host a beneficiary activity, Matt always raises his hand to participate and importantly thank the doctors who he considers to be the heroes in the cancer fight.

Matt is 57-years old. He brings contagious energy to everything he does.

So, this tribute isn’t a retirement. We know that word isn’t in Matt’s vocabulary.

Rather, it’s a heartfelt thank you.

Since 1987, Swim Across America has granted nearly $100 million through 21 annual charity open water swims and over 100 pool swim fundraisers.

Making Waves with Hope: “Stay Tuned…” When Life is Put on Hold” by Vicki Bunke

Hope Header2Making Waves with Hope is a series of inspiring messages by leaders in the Swim Across America community during this uncertain time. Vicki Bunke is an active member in the SAA-Atlanta community and is the mother of ‘Amazing’ Grace Bunke, the top national SAA fundraiser in 2018. Grace sadly passed away in March 2018 from osteosarcoma. You can read more about the Bunke family here.

The ellipsis, a row of 3 dots, stands for an omitted section of text. It can also be used to represent an unfinished thought or simply a pause. I think we can all agree that we are currently living in an ellipsis. An ellipsis of life. The dizzying number of closures, cancellations, postponements, and ordered restrictions on our lives prompted by the COVD-19 pandemic just keeps growing. America, as we know it, is on pause. We are in an ellipsis of life.

Our family recently passed the second anniversary of living on this planet without Grace. As such, I am reminded how familiar we are with the feelings and experiences that are touching our entire globe. The experience of living in an ellipsis – the feeling of not knowing what might come next. The feeling of having one’s life placed on pause or hold because of an unwanted medical diagnosis. The feeling of having to wait.

If you were to take a poll of the least popular things to do, waiting would probably be near the top. It is probably one of the few things that nobody likes but everybody does. Because if you think about it, we are always waiting for something. Sometimes for things that are coming imminently, sometimes for things that are a little way off, and sometimes we wait for things which we have no idea if they will ever come or happen.

This pandemic reminds me that the real problem isn’t in the waiting – it’s what can happen while we wait. Over the past handful of years, I have learned that there are two ways out of a stressful situation that we have no control over or a circumstance in which we are forced to wait for our lives to get back to normal. We can accept what is happening and choose a peaceful state of mind or we can choose to fight against it, be miserable, and struggle against the universe.

Guess where I learned that? I learned it from my daughter Grace when she was just 11-years-old. Several nights before the surgery in which her left leg would be amputated due to her disease, I was helping her pack for her hospital stay. Grace saw me grab her Chaco sandals and place them in her bag. I instinctively packed both.

And then Grace said, “Mom, you only need to pack one of those. I won’t need the left sandal in the hospital.”

“Oops, you’re right Grace. Sorry about that.” I replied.

“No problem, mom. I just need to wait on my prosthetic leg to be built before I can wear both sandals again.”Grace answered with a smile.

Grace Leg

That type of acceptance is the key to helping you move forward even while your life seems to be on hold. That type of acceptance is the solution to coping with an ellipsis of life. Believe me, I get it. I know that it is difficult to practice acceptance when you deeply wish things are not the way they are. But I remain committed even today to follow Grace’s lead.

Although it is difficult to know that an idea that was truly inspired – the idea of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour 2020 – is on hold or what I have been calling ‘Stay tuned…’ status, I know without a doubt that it will all work out.

I also know that each year almost 10 million people across the world die from cancer, of which 80,000 are children. Telecommuting, distance learning, shelter-in-place orders, and social distancing might place a pause or hold on the spread of COVID-19, it does not do a single thing to stop the fact that adults and children will continue to hear these 3 words even in the middle of this pandemic: You have cancer…

Please stay healthy, stay tuned, and stay hopeful. There is always hope. Hope has no finish line.

 

Updated Swim Across America Fundraising Messages for 2020

There have been many requests for sample messages to use in your fundraising efforts during the uncertainty of the current pandemic. Here are some messages created by Swim Across America staff and leading participants that you can share via email, text message, social media, the SAA fundraising app and other formats. 

Message #1

Every 15 min, 50 Americans are diagnosed with cancer. Even during a pandemic, people continue to hear the terrible words ‘you have cancer’. I have joined the Swim Across America family so that I can continue to give cancer patients hope by raising funds to support cutting edge cancer research. If you are able, please support me and my swim by making a donation to my personal fundraising page. Every bit helps and will make an impact in the fight to find a cure. 

Message #2

Most of us know someone who is dealing with cancer, and how devastating it can be both for the person who is ill and for the family.  Cancer touches everyone, and unfortunately during these crazy times, cancer isn’t going into quarantine. That is why I’m STILL making waves to fight cancer with Swim Across America. Since we can’t be together right now, would you instead ‘buy me a drink’ or ‘take me out to dinner’ by making a donation to my Swim Across America swim. The money you give will go toward cutting edge cancer research and make an impact in the fight to find a cure. 

Message #3

The past few weeks have definitely been a challenge for us all, which is why I wanted to send you a quick note to see how you were doing and to share with you on something I am looking forward to. This summer, when we are all hopefully able to come together again, I will be swimming 1 mile in open water with Swim Across America to raise funds to support cancer research. When you have a moment, check out my personal fundraising page to learn more about the event and what the funds will support. I’d love to catch up and hear what you are up to as well. Hopefully you have some fun plans to look forward to later this year too. 

Message #4

I hope you are doing ok in this crazy time. I wanted to reach out to thank you again for supporting my participation in Swim Across America. It really made me smile and feel just a little bit closer during all this isolation. Did you know that you might be able to double your donation by getting a matching gift from your employer? Check with your HR department to see what forms need to be completed or search here to see if your company is eligible for matching gifts. Every bit helps, so thank you for checking with your employer for a match! 

Message #5

I’ve been thinking about you and your family during this difficult time and wanted to reach out to see how you were doing. I’ve signed up to participate and fundraise to support cancer research with Swim Across America this year and they’ve been sharing these inspiring stories about dealing with uncertainty right now that I thought you might enjoy.  I hope this brings a little hope to your world right now. I can’t wait until we can get together again soon.

If you have any great messages you think other SAA participants can benefit from using, you can share with us at info@swimacrossamerica.org

2015 Swim Across America event, Day 2 - Nantasket Beach.

 

How Does the CARES Act Affect My 2020 Donation?

CARES Act for Nonprofits – On Friday, March 27, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion economic stimulus package legislated to provide immediate relief for nonprofits. You can help give families affected by cancer hope when you make a donation to Swim Across America.

Details About CARES Act

The inclusion of an expanded charitable giving incentive is a critical acknowledgement by Congress that the work of nonprofits like Swim Across America are essential services. Indeed, cancer isn’t taking a break and our mission continues to be critical as we raise funds and provide grants to our world-class beneficiaries. It is the first time Congress has passed this type of giving incentive in response to disaster or national emergency. 

Here Are The Highlights

IMPORTANT: New Deduction Available: Up to $300 per tax filing in annual charitable contributions. It is an “above the line” adjustment to income that will reduce a donor’s adjusted gross income (AGI), and thereby reduce taxable income. This is particularly beneficial to people who take the standard deduction when filing their taxes (in other words for taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions). A donation to a donor advised fund (DAF) does not qualify for this new deduction. 

New Charitable Deduction Limits: As part of the bill, individuals and corporations that itemize can deduct much greater amounts of their contributions. Individuals can elect to deduct donations up to 100% of their 2020 AGI (up from 60% previously). Corporations may deduct up to 25% of taxable income, up from the previous limit of 10%. The new deduction is for gifts that go to a public charity, such as Swim Across America. The old deduction rules apply to gifts to private foundations. The higher deduction does not apply to donations directly to a DAF. 

If your assets are substantial enough that you can give more than your income this year, you won’t lose the deduction for the excess amount. You can use it next year, as has always been the case.

Required Min. Distributions Waived in 2020 for Most Donors: RMD for individuals over age 70 ½ are suspended until 2021. This includes distributions from defined benefit pension plans and 457 plans. The RMD is an attractive way for donors to make a significant charitable gift directly from their IRA to a charity through a qualified charitable contribution (QCD) while avoiding taxable income. The suspension of the RMD may dampen somewhat the incentive for a donor who makes a gift from their IRA to count toward that minimum. However, the tax benefit of the QCD remains. 

The takeaway – donors directing a QCD to charity this year (up to $100,000 per individual) will still reduce their taxable IRA balance. This allows all taxpayers, itemizers and non-itemizers alike, to direct gifts from their IRA to charities in a tax efficient manner. 

DONATE TO SWIM ACROSS AMERICA TODAY

If you have questions or would like assistance making a donation, you can contact us at info@swimacrossamerica.org

This information is not intended as legal or tax advice. For such advice, please consult an attorney or tax advisor. Figures cited in any examples are for illustrative purposes only. References to tax rates include federal taxes only and are subject to change. State law may further impact your individual results.

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Making Waves with Hope: “Survival Tips and Lessons Learned” by the Denton Family

Hope Header2Making Waves with Hope is a series of inspiring messages by leaders in the Swim Across America community during this uncertain time. The Denton Family helped bring Swim Across America to St. Louis. Walter and Kathy Denton have been married for 20 years and their daughters are Ally (17) and Jenna (14). Walter has been battling cancer since 2013 and Kathy is the Event Director of SAA-St. Louis.

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In 2013, the world as we knew it changed. We had a fear of the unknown and at times we felt overwhelmed, anxious or depressed. We were hypervigilant about germs and exposure to viruses. We lost our sense of safety, security and predictability. We were uncertain about the future.

This may sound similar to our current unprecedented times in our country as we face COVID-19; however, we are referring to our family’s battle with cancer. While we understand that the situations are different, there are many lessons our family learned during cancer that might be helpful as you navigate through this uncharted time.

Since Walter’s original diagnosis of undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma in 2013, he has spent more than 100 days in the hospital. This included chemo treatments, surgical procedures, multiple infections and a stem cell transplant due to chemo-induced myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). During that time, we developed our own survival techniques and hope they might help as our world is faced with a pandemic.

Manage Your Expectations.

Walter Denton (cancer survivor & father): Living through a cancer diagnosis and treatments can be like a roller coaster: good news then bad news then uncertain news. Your health and future are only as certain your next CT scan or blood test. When will the journey end?

It is easier to cope if you manage expectations so that you will not be disappointed and demoralized with each setback. We were always convinced that we would get through this horrible experience, but it would not likely be tomorrow or next week. We understood early on my cancer diagnosis was a marathon, not a sprint. 

You Are Not Alone.

Kathy Denton (wife & mother): I will always remember the first time I visited the 7thfloor of Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis. I had so many emotions going through my mind but as I looked at my husband, I kept thinking he looked so healthy and so many people around us looked so frail. When they called his name to take him back for vitals, I had to walk away and my emotions started to overflow. As I looked out the window, I became very angry that the whole world still seemed to be going on around us, yet we felt as if the world had stopped. I felt very alone and overwhelmed. Those thoughts faded quickly as I realized we were not alone. We soon met many people who were also dealing with a cancer diagnosis and an uncertain future. Additionally, our friends, family and church provided comfort and supported us in many ways. We were not alone.

Ally (teenage daughter): My friends’ families were so supportive. I would spend the night on a school night at a friend’s house, or they would take me to practice. My teammates and coaches supported me through it all. I’m not the biggest talker, but the people that were there for me, just there, really showed me that I do not have to feel alone in a time of uncertainty.

Develop a Routine, but Understand It May Not Work for Everyone.

Walter: During my stem cell transplant, I was scheduled to live in a hospital room for at least 30 days. That is the ultimate “shelter in place” in that my life was reduced to a 10 x 10 room and I had to wear a mask just to walk on the hospital floor.

I understood early on that I needed to build structure into my days:

  • I did yoga every morning, no matter how rotten I felt.
  • I read from a devotional book after breakfast to give me a spiritual foundation.
  • I read local and national news on my laptop every day to stay in touch with the outside world.
  • I stayed in touch with family and friends (by phone, email, and FaceTime) to strengthen my relationships and reinforce that I am not in this alone. 

Being isolated does not mean being alone. Enrich yourself and your relationships through intentional outreach to your family, friends, and environment. 

Kathy: While Walter maintained a daily schedule, I felt as if my life was always in chaos juggling a job, being a mom with two active kids, and also being a supportive wife and caregiver. One of my routines that changed the most was exercise. Before cancer, I woke up at 5 am every day and went to the gym. With two young kids at home, that was no longer an option but I also recognized I needed exercise for my own mental health. Over time, I purchased an Arc Trainer on Craig’s List and also bought weights, a workout bench and a trainer for my bike. While I didn’t enjoy working out at home as much as the gym, I did what I needed to do at the time. 

Listen to the Experts.

Kathy:  As soon as we learned of Walter’s suspicious mass, I immediately began consulting Dr. Google to find out what we might be dealing with. We quickly transitioned from “we don’t think this is cancer and if it is, it should be highly treatable” to … “this is highly aggressive and we need to start treatment right away.” In our situation, I felt like I was on a steep learning curve but quickly realized, while it is okay to get a second opinion, always look for reputable resources and trust those who have focused their career and education on our specific diagnosis.

Ally: My dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was in fifth grade, meaning I didn’t fully grasp all that was going on. I was scared that my dad wasn’t going to make it. My only experience with cancer was my dog, who had his leg amputated and died two days before my dad started chemo, and my grandpa, who was diagnosed with leukemia on Easter and died three weeks later. In this time, however, I had to listen to my parents (my experts) to understand the situation in itself. Without them, I could never have been able to see the truth of the situation.

Walter: There was a point in my treatment where there was no road map for what to do next. My doctors said that they had never treated anyone in my situation (sarcoma, stem cell transplant for MDS, sarcoma recurrence). So, we looked at the possibilities, weighed the probabilities, and went with the option that had the greatest chance for success. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but I am grateful for my doctor’s candor, courage and determination.

Acknowledge the Heroes.

Walter: I would not be alive without the efforts of countless people behind the scenes. First of all, I had incredible doctors and nurses who led me through my various surgeries, tests, and treatments. I also benefited from doctors who sponsored clinical trials that I participated in. I received blood and platelet transfusions from generous donors who are never recognized for their anonymous gifts.

Most importantly, I am alive because of the stem cells that were donated for my stem cell transplant. I will forever be indebted to my “brother from another mother” who shared his bone marrow when mine failed. I am living with his stem cells and immune system, and I am grateful for him and all of the other heroes.

Jenna (teenage daughter): There were many adults that helped us when my dad was in the hospital. I went to a friends house almost every day and they made sure I didn’t go hungry and also helped me with homework. I had many teachers that helped and they went above and beyond. Friends and our church brought our family food. We even had someone bring my dad home from the hospital in a snow storm. Adults really help each other when someone is going through tough times.  Really, my dad was my biggest hero because not only did he stay his silly self, he also beat the odds.

Continue to Celebrate Milestones.

Ally: My fifth grade year, I spent my birthday in the hospital so that I could be with my family. There is a picture of me in the hospital with an ice cream cake wearing a green Hollister shirt. I still have that shirt, and every time I wear it, I think of that time and how far we’ve come.

Denton Give Yourself Something to Look Forward To.

Kathy: Walter’s sister lived in Hawaii and our family was planning to visit them for Christmas 2013. Instead of going at Christmas, we scheduled a trip for when his treatments were supposed to be completed the following summer. We had no idea that he would have so many treatment delays and were grateful his doctor allowed us to travel in July, even though he still had his last round of treatments to go. Planning experiences became a coping mechanism for me (especially around scan time) because I needed something to look forward to!

Jenna: Always get insurance for everything you do. We cancelled lots of trips and experiences. It’s okay to be sad or mad but chill out and don’t stress. If something is cancelled now, it gives you something to look forward to later.

Joy is Contagious. Use Your Situation to Provide Hope to Others:

Ally: In the time we stayed at the hospital, my family became friends with nurses and doctors. Rainbow Loom was really in at this time, and I loved making bracelets, so I made rainbow loom bracelets for the nurses. I was able to give hope to those that see people in pain all day by making bracelets.

Walter: While we would not want to go through this again (or wish it on others), we have tried to use our experience to help others. I don’t feel like a hero, but people have expressed to me that they are inspired by my story. We have tried to pay it forward in numerous ways:

  • Developed the Swim Across America fundraiser for Siteman Cancer Center
  • Helped coordinate the Cure Sarcoma 6K fundraiser for the Siteman Cancer Center and Sarcoma Foundation
  • Helped coordinate a Be the Match donation drive for the bone marrow registry
  • Joined the American Cancer Society local board of directors
  • Presented to local civic groups
  • Purchased gas and parking cards for other cancer patients

Everyone Copes Differently, and That is Okay! It’s Also Okay to Ask for Help.

Kathy: At times, I held it together really well and at other times, I made some unhealthy choices. I barely slept. I drank too much. People drove me insane and I had no filters to help manage my emotions. One day I finally had a moment where I realized I needed help. I contacted the counseling office at our cancer center and met with someone twice before feeling like I was back in control of my emotions again. That reset helped me realize I needed outlets to express my emotions. I have a small group of prayer warriors who still lift our family up in prayer and I have a small group of friends from different times in my life who have become a huge support for me.

Walter: I was a swimmer in high school and college, and swimming was a lifeline during my cancer treatments. The pool provided continuity to my previous life and calmed my anxieties. Swim Across America was a perfect outlet for my energies where I could channel my love of swimming into a force for good by raising money for the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis.

Jenna: I try to look for and provide humor in all situations. I didn’t always like going to the hospital, but when I was there I was pretty much the comedy relief. I made up skits and made fun of my dad walking on crutches and I made everybody laugh. Making my family laugh helped me feel like I was contributing. 

You Will Be Changed After this Experience.

Kathy: I try to apply the Marie Kondo principles to my life. If something doesn’t bring me joy, I don’t want to be a part of it. This has allowed me to reprioritize what is important in my life and spend time with people and things that bring me joy. Quality time and experiences are important for our family and we try our best to make this a priority.

Walter: The things you think are important before a cancer diagnosis are not the same things that are important after a cancer diagnosis. The thought of dying from cancer clearly refines your priorities. While my job was (and is important), it is not more important than my family and the relationships I have cultivated over my lifetime. Would I see my children graduate from high school and college? Would I see them get married? Would I meet my grandchildren? Would I be able to retire and travel the world with my wife? These questions immediately generated much more gravity than before.

I have cherished my children’s sports and activities so much more now that I faced the possibility of missing them forever. We have made efforts to connect and visit our friends rather than assume we will get to it “sometime.” Facing mortality forces you to live in the moment and enjoy the present and not place your intention in a future that may not come.

We often reference our lives as “Before Cancer” and “After Cancer,” as our family profoundly changed. We live differently and perceive ourselves and the world differently through the lens of cancer. All of us will see the world differently through the lens of pre-COVID and post-COVID.

The Denton family will be leading the fundraising charge for Siteman Cancer Center at SAA-St. Louis again this year. You can read more on Walter’s story and donate should you choose on his personal fundraising page.

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