SAA FAMILY TREE (2017 RECAP)

SAA Family Tree is a monthly focus on stories that display the impact all the members of the Swim Across America family have both locally and nationally. If you have a story or link you’d like to share, please send here.

SAA – Atlanta

SAA – Charlotte

  • Spectrum News had all the video highlights of the inaugural SAA-Charlotte featuring Levine Cancer Institute’s Dr. Jonathan Gerber and Queens University swimmer and cancer survivor Alex Marshall.
  • Patty Waldron and her team of Masters Swimmers go ‘out of the box’ to raise money for Levine Cancer Center.

SAA – San Francisco Bay Area

  • 3-year old Seth Lurie is battling rhabdomyosarcoma. Seth and his dad came to SAA – San Francisco and this is what he thinks of cancer.

SAA – Baltimore

  • Emma and Sammy Rocks of Team Rock On joined Wyatt Eberhart on Midday Maryland!

 

SAA – St. Louis

  • John Traube was the top fundraiser with over $26K raised for SAA – St. Louis. Find out why his story is such an inspiration to us at SAA!

SAA – Rhode Island

  • Olympian Elizabeth Beisel joined the Rhode Island swim this year and made a big splash with all the college swimmers and hospital patients alike!

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SAA – Dallas

SAA – Seattle

  • Another big splash for SAA – Seattle as featured by Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Saving Lives at the Johns Hopkins Swim Across America Lab

Stefanie Joho joined SAA – Baltimore this year to share her uplifting story. Four years ago at 22-years old she was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer. Stefanie went through repeated chemo with no positive response, and the cancer spread to stage 4. Her doctors gave her weeks to live. Desperate and not willing to give up, her sister googles and finds Dr. Luis Diaz at our beneficiary Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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Dr. Diaz told Joho to come immediately to JHU where she participates in an immunotherapy clinical trial of Keytruda funded–yes funded–by your donations to Swim Across America. The trial saved her life (she has “no evidence of disease NED”), she has a bright future and Keytruda is now FDA approved. Read Stefanie’s story in the New York Times and if you are inspired by the work being done through Swim Across America labs, please consider donating to SAA: http://bit.ly/SAAdonation.

Genetic tests for mismatch repair deficiency are commercially available. But insurers might not pay for the drugs — Keytruda and Opdivo cost $150,000 a year — based on such a small study. The study was paid for by Swim Across America and other charities, and the National Institutes of Health.  – New York Times

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SAA Lab Doctor speaks to Montclair Pool Swim Students

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The 3rd Annual Swim to Win Against Cancer Pool Swim took place earlier this year in Montclair, N.J., featuring student-athletes from Montclair High School and Newark Academy.

The students participating in the annual swim challenge were lucky enough to meet and participate in a Q&A session with Dr. Taha Merghoub, visiting from an SAA beneficiary, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Merghoub is also the Co- Director of the Ludwig Collaborative and Swim Across America Lab at MSK. Sarah Dillon Soden, Associate Director, Annual Giving at MSK also spoke at the event.

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Dr. Taha Merghoub of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

The students learned how the nearly $50,000 they’ve raised over the last three years at their pool swim challenge has helped fund the SAA Lab where Dr. Merghoub investigates the pathogenesis and treatment of melanoma.

A special thanks goes out to Montclair High School Swim Coach Ed Koenigsfest and Newark Academy Swim Coach Billy Blomn for supporting SAA and creating a great pool swim challenge where the competition focuses on a common goal.

Learn more about starting an SAA Pool Swim in your community here.

Lab Series #1: Moffitt Cancer Center

Your donations allow SAA to provide funding to some of the world’s most renowned cancer institutions. This is the first in a series featuring the SAA LABS that our beneficiaries have named in honor of the efforts of Swim Across America.

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Swim Across America Adolescent & Young Adult Lounge

This month, we are profiling the Swim Across America Adolescent and Young Adult Lounge at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. The ribbon-cutting ceremony took place in April 2015 (featuring Tampa Bay Open Water Swim Event Director Rob Shapiro, former SAA CEO Janel Jorgensen-McArdle and current SAA CEO Rob Butcher). The SAA AYA Lounge is used by the approximately 100 young adult cancer patients at the hospital every day. Olivia Fridgen, AYA and LATTE Program Coordinator at Moffitt provided this insight.

How has the reception been to the SAA AYA Lounge by patients?
The reception from patients has been amazing. The corkboard wall on the lounge shows patient artwork, the white board has encouragement from patient to patient and the lounge journal has pages and pages of thoughts and inspirational words. It has been a respite for inpatients who need a change of scenery, as a place to spend time with their family and friends who come to visit and a great spot for the AYA (Adolescent and Young Adults) Program to host events and support groups.

Since the SAA AYA Lounge is different from  other research-based SAA Labs, what interesting facts can you pass along?
We are the 1st AYA Lounge in Florida, the 3rd in the country. We are also unique because our lounge provides physical space not only for our inpatients but our outpatients as well. Some of the traditional lounges are built in conjunction with inpatient units and therefore are not accessible to outpatients. Another unique mention is that our Moffitt AYA Patients actually designed the entire space – they picked out color schemes, fabrics, flooring and lighting so that we were confident our lounge was hitting the mark and what AYA patients would actually want in a space.

Do patients get treatment in the SAA AYA Lounge?
No, the lounge is a place to get away from the hustle bustle of the hospital life. The Lounge has the latest gaming systems, comfy couches, white boards, board games and art supplies. The inpatient floors of the hospital, where admitted patients would receive treatment, is steps away which provides convenience and access to the lounge.


 

How much did it cost to build the SAA AYA Lounge?
SAA has donated nearly $140,000 to the AYA program over the years and monies from the 2014 race were specifically designated to the creation of the SAA AYA Lounge.

Does the AYA Group anticipate this to be a trend in hospital systems moving forward?
Yes, organizations like Teen Cancer America are working with AYA Programs across the country to fund and offer physical spaces in hospitals for young cancer patients.

Why is it important for Moffitt and other hospitals to have a lounge for adolescent and young adults?
Adolescent and Young Adult patients feel like they are the only 20- or 30-year-old in the entire hospital. While we know that isn’t true, each patient is seen in their respective clinic (for example, if you have breast cancer you’re seen in the Breast Clinic, if you have Lung Cancer you’re seen in Thoracic, etc.), so they never get the chance to run into one another. The Lounge provides a space where Young Adult cancer patients can actually meet another young person with cancer. Because it’s in a communal space, it’s less awkward, more organic and can reduce the feelings of isolation many AYAs feel, which is important to their psychosocial state of mind and also can create lasting friendships. Many of our patients say that family and friends are extremely supportive, but no one quite “gets it” like another young cancer patient.

If an SAA Event Could Talk…

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Each of our events has their own unique “voice.” But there are some commonalities across all of them and we think this is what your average one would sound like…

SOMEONE GET ME A COFFEE.

I love you guys, but I won’t be functioning without coffee at this hour.

Dash of cream. One sugar. Thank goodness for caffeine!

OOOOOKay. So. Picnic tables, banners, shells and sharpies, breakfast, Balance Bars, signs in the sand, buoys, caps, registration forms, towels, clipboards, Chobanis, wetsuits, waivers, kayaks, DJ, t-shirts, flags to the start, I have to be forgetting something…

If you ask me, setup is something I almost wish our participants could all be a part of as well. It’s pitch black, and all these people are volunteering their time to lug bins full of swag and supplies onto the beach. It’s camaraderie between strangers that starts before the sun rises, and it’s what sets the tone for the rest of the event. The only pall on these amazing mornings is what’s uniting everyone.

But that’s another great thing, though. People who come to me? They know why they’re here. Cancer isn’t simply something we remember on event day- it’s ever-present. And look at how many smiles, smiles there are here. My participants are powerful in the presence of the ever-present, and that’s why there’s a day on the horizon in which we won’t have to smile in spite of it anymore. That’s what I’m here working towards.

Oh. My. Goodness. There is an eight year old child here that is determined to swim the half mile alongside her mother.

Excuse me while I tear up behind the DJ’s speakers.

Speaking of which, DJ, can I request a song? A little vintage “Eye of the Tiger” might be in order to get this party bumpin’ by 8am. (But no Black Eyed Peas- so 2000 and late.)

Once things get rolling here, I love that they kind of don’t slow down. My favorite part of my swim is when participants run out of the water under my arches. It’s the culmination of a morning, but also the culmination of months of preparation from both staff and participants alike. Swimmers that were previously strangers share high fives and become family. You’d be hard pressed to find anything other than a smile on every face on that beach. Under those arches, we find the core of SAA: family, hard work and positivity, all on the road to a cure.

Okay people, time for the group picture. Look at everybody in their new shirts, lookin’ so flyyyy! Squeeze together, people, squeeze! We’re all in this together!

(Were truer words ever spoke?)

Welcome October!

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The Detection Plan

Our fight for the cure is for all types of cancer, but October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, so the SAA team has prepped some quick facts and figures on this disease, and a plan for early detection.

Did you know…

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, and the second leading cause of death among them. One in eight will be diagnosed with it in their lifetime.

Here’s the good news, though: mortality rates have been declining in women since 1990, due in combination to awareness, earlier and better detection and increased treatment options. And when detected early (in the localized stage,) the 5-year survival rate for women is 98%. Progress is being made, and while you may not be able to prevent it, being able to detect breast cancer early could make a world of difference.

Detection plans are very important, and consist of self-exams, clinical exams and regular mammograms for women over the age of 40.

The Self-Exam

Recommended once per month, self-exams are responsible for about 40% of detection rates. Most people who are diagnosed with breast cancer only notice one or two of the symptoms at first, which include any new lumps, changes in skin color or texture, any discharge or any unexplained changes in size or shape of the breast.

The Clinical Exam

A medical professional that is trained to notice abnormalities should conduct a clinical exam at an annual checkup. The doctor would do a visual and manual check of both breasts, and assess anything suspicious if found.

Regular Mammograms

Mammograms are x-rays of the breasttissue. For women over the age of 40, the risk of breast cancer increases, and mammograms should be performed every 1 or 2 years. Often, the mammogram can detect a lump before it can be felt, which can be key to detecting abnormal cells at the earliest possible time.

Knowing the facts about breast cancer and the steps to early detection is important for both men and women. Awareness is the best defense, but we know it’s not enough. Educate yourself and contact a doctor if you suspect anything, and get involved with Swim Across America as we work towards a cure!

Twin Swims

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For the past couple years, Swim Across America has hosted two late summer swims on the same day- at opposite ends of the country! The Rhode Island and Seattle open water events are twin swims, and like any set, they’ve got a lot in common but also have distinct personalities. Since we’re not ones for sibling rivalry, we decided to spotlight both swims to connect our SAA family across the continent!

Rhode Island: East Coast

Over on the Atlantic side, the smallest state in the union hosts one heck of a swim. Rhode Island’s SAA swim is marked by a mix of intense energy and intimacy, and is a blast to participate in.

Walk onto the beach as the sun rises, and our DJ will be playing “Party Rock Anthem.” The Narragansett venue attracts the most college swimmers at an SAA event in the country, so most of our top fundraisers in the Ocean State are still students. (As of this posting, Providence College has been holding steady as the top team fundraiser with over $14,000!)

Not to be outdone by the youthful exuberance of the college kids, local Rhode Islanders have been incredibly dedicated to SAA. The family is small- watch for how many locals chat up RI-born-and-bred Olympian Clara Walker- and everyone knows someone who’s been treated at beneficiary Women and Infants, making this swim a very personal one.

With both a half-mile and full mile distance, swimmers can choose their challenge at Roger Wheeler State Beach. Rhode Islanders commonly describe themselves as small but strong, but there’s nothing little about the life and heart emerging from the Narragansett waters as SAA swimmers run up on the beach!

Seattle: West Coast

Out West, Seattle starts the summer sendoff in style with their swim off Mercer Island in Lake Washington. Always prepared to innovate, Seattle is one of the first cities in the SAA family to host a BREAKOWT clinic, which is run in conjunction with the Michael Phelps Swim School and preps swimmers for open water events.

The Mercer Island swim has got something for everyone with a 50-meter kids’ splash, ½ mile and 2 mile swim. The entire family has almost no excuse to stay out of the water, and it seems that they won’t! SAA Seattle is hosting 37 (yes, 37!) tribute teams this year, so Lake Washington will be teeming with powerhouse teams!

The most unique aspect of Seattle’s event is that it’s the only one in the nation that has a corporate matching system. Through the McAdams Wright Ragen Matching Program, a bonus will be donated in the name of the top ten teams if they raise a combined $120,000. It’s a generous and original program that proves that SAA Seattle leads the way in shaping unique events.

Benefitting the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, this West Coast swim’s goal is to raise three times as much as its twin swim, but that hardly takes away from the family-reunion feel of the event. Pancakes on the beach attract the likes of Olympians Ariana Kukors, Jeff Float, Dana Kirk, and Rick Colella, to name a few. That familial spirit hangs on the beach with the “why I swim” flags in Seattle, and considering the innovation that has come to define SAA Seattle, it makes for a vibrant event full of surprises and above all, life.

Two oceans. Two events. One cause. Like any set of twins, our swims in Seattle and Rhode Island are connected in spirit, and serve to connect all who’ve been touched by cancer. We’ll see you on the beach- you choose the coast!