Katie Jorgenson stepped onto the sands at Ohio Street Beach and gently waded into the water. She was there participating in the 2018 Swim Across America – Chicago Open Water Swim and still recovering from bone cancer treatment. Following two surgeries on her knee and about nine months of chemo, Katie had reached the other side of cancer treatment as a patient at Rush. During that experience, she learned how to make a difference in the lives of others who also are diagnosed with the disease.
“Swim Across America has a direct impact on the hospital where I was treated,” said Jorgenson, 19, who’s now studying nursing at St. Louis University. “The event raises money specifically for people like me who are being treated at Rush for cancer.”
Among the array of Rush staff who supported Katie through cancer treatment is Patty Piasecki, MS, RN, clinical coordinator of orthopedic oncology with Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush. Piasecki also serves as team captain of the Rush fundraisers for the Swim Across America – Chicago Open Water Swim, and she convinced Katie to join the Rush team. Katie then started raising money through her personal network and came to the event in 2018.
“It’s much more than a swim,” Katie said. “It’s a really touching and powerful experience. Seeing so many people who are affected by cancer in one way or another, and how passionate they are to find better treatments, is something I’ll never forget.”
Pivoting during COVID
Swim Across America is a national organization that raises money nationwide through swimming events in support of local cancer research facilities. Since 2012 Swim Across America has directed its proceeds from Chicago-area swims to the Rush University Cancer Center, leading to more than $2 million in total contributions to clinical cancer research at Rush. The funding supports several research projects for cancers including breast, colon, liver and lung.
With restrictions on large events and gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization found a way for people to participate remotely. Participants are encouraged to choose a physical activity they can do safely at or near their homes, and log their activity as they raise funds. People interested in participating can walk, run, bike, swim or engage in any other exercise in support of cancer research and treatment at Rush.
“I was really struck by Swim Across America’s creative solution to the problems COVID left in its wake,” Katie said. “It shows just how much the people involved really care, just like the people I’ve met who helped me at Rush.”
‘They made a scary experience much less scary’
In 2015 Katie was playing volleyball as a high school freshman and developed pain in her knee. At the time, she figured it was just an injury, but X-rays revealed something else and she was referred to Midwest Orthopaedics. Her care team included Steven Gitelis, MD, professor and vice chairman of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Rush, Dr. Paul Kent, assistant professor of pediatric hematology-oncology, Dr. Matthew Colman, assistant professor of orthopedic oncology, as well as Piasecki and several other staff. Today she is back on her feet as she continues nursing studies, while also participating in other fundraisers, including Relay for Life and Dance Marathon, and she serves in the First-Year Experience at SLU, where she helps new students adjust to college life.
“Even with what I went through, I had such a positive experience,” Katie said. “All the doctors and staff, including Patty, just put me at ease throughout. I even found I was actually excited to see them during my follow-ups through the last five years. They made a very scary experience much less scary. That’s really important because cancer can be a lifelong issue. The more we can do to support treatment and research, the better chance we have to give people back their lives.”