The first time I swam with Swim Across America was in June 2014. I really didn’t know what Swim Across America was about other than fundraising for cancer research. But I had some friends swimming, and my sister Sarah had just been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
I had no idea how important this cause would later become to not only Sarah, but also myself.
Sarah was around five or six months pregnant with my niece, her first child, when she found out she had cancer. While I was fundraising and swimming, Sarah was waiting — waiting to give birth, waiting to become a mom, waiting for treatment, waiting to move on with her life.
While thyroid cancer is rare, it is one of the “most curable” cancers, especially for people at a young age like Sarah. But somehow words like that don’t penetrate your mind as deeply as words like “cancer.” Everyone felt anxious while waiting but participating in Swim Across America helped me focus my energy and anxieties into something productive.
The mission of Swim Across America is to raise money for cancer research and clinical trials through benefit swims. It felt good to take part in something that would help people like my sister fighting all types of cancer.
Sarah gave birth that August and received treatment during the following months. By the new year, she was considered cancer-free! With my sister healthy and a new baby niece, life was good.
But that same fall, after my sister finished her treatments, I found out I also had thyroid cancer. I was scared, but fortunately I had Sarah, who had just experienced everything I was about to, and she was only a phone call away.
The following summer, I swam for my sister and for myself.
At first, I had difficulty accepting the fact that I had cancer. When I was diagnosed, my biopsies continually came back abnormal and inconclusive. It was not until I had my thyroid removed that I definitively had cancer. For a long time, in my mind, I didn’t actually have cancer because it was removed before I knew I definitely had it. Swimming for myself forced me to accept that I had cancer, I was treated for it and I was well on my way to being called “cancer-free.”
Now, coming up on my fourth Swim Across America swim, my sister and I remain cancer-free. I still swim in our honor. I enjoy supporting this cause that affects so many people just like us.
This story was contributed by Amanda Hopkins, a survivor of thyroid cancer and a Swim Across America participant.