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Inspiring Swimmers From the Shore

Cancer patient supports research fundraising swim

Emily Crabtree, a cancer patient at Rush University Medical Center, hugs radiation oncologist Andrew Walker, MD, who swam the Swim Across America Chicago Open Water Swim in Crabtree's honor.

By Ben Feldheim

Emily Crabtree won’t let anything stop her from participating in the annual Swim Across America Chicago fundraiser for cancer research — even her own continuing fight against the disease.

Crabtree, 32, has been battling cancer for 13 years, during which she has undergone more than 18 months of chemotherapy, 35 rounds of radiation treatment and multiple surgeries to clear the disease from her body. She now is going through chemo again to ward off nodules that appeared in her left lung about four years ago, which is why she wasn’t able to swim at last year’s event.

But she still gathered donations and encouraged others to participate in the Chicago swim, including many of her caregivers at Rush. She won't be swimming at this year's event, as her treatment continues, but she is still supporting the effort just as she did last year. “It’s a celebration,” Crabtree says of the Swim Across America Chicago Open Water Swim. “It’s incredibly special to see all these patients and my doctors and nurses come out to the event and support this effort.”

'Very personal and important'

Swim Across America is a national nonprofit organization that raises money for cancer research through swimming events. Money raised by the swimmers goes to a cancer research center in the same community where the events take place.

Since 2012, Swim Across America Chicago has raised $825,000 for research at the Rush University Cancer Center. Rush again will be the recipient of proceeds raised at this year’s event on Saturday, July 25, at Ohio Street Beach.

“I have been to lots of different fundraising events, but to see something where Rush directly benefits is very personal and important to me,” says Crabtree, who’s been receiving care at Rush since the beginning of her long fight with cancer.

Rush staff, as well as current and former patients and supporters — many of whom were inspired by Crabtree’s enthusiasm — raised money and participated in the last three Chicago swims. The swimmers in Crabtree’s care team include Patricia Piasecki, RN, MSN, clinical coordinator of Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush's orthopedic oncology program, hematologist oncologist Allen Korenblit, MD, and radiation oncologist Andrew Walker, MD, who is co-captain of this year’s Rush team. Both Korenblit and Walker swam at last year’s event in Crabtree’s honor.

“I’ve had people in my family affected by cancer,” Walker says. “Certainly every day I see the struggles our patients go through, from diagnosis through treatment, surveillance, follow-up and, unfortunately, through recurrence. It drives all of us to push for more fundraising and research.”

Motivating others

While Walker was honored to swim for Crabtree, he finds it sobering that she was not able to be in the water with the people she encouraged to participate.

“It always stings when you have a patient who doesn’t have the continued outcome that you were all hoping for,” Walker says. “It was particularly the case with Emily, because she really has lit the fires to get Rush people heavily involved and working on donations and getting more participants. It’s kind of like we swam without our team captain, but she was there cheering us on from the shore.”

Crabtree sees her own continued experience fighting cancer as an opportunity to get even more people involved with Swim Across America.

“If they see someone like me who’s a patient who’s out there taking part in the event and getting their friends and family involved, then I feel like I can motivate doctors and nurses to do the same,” Crabtree said. “You don’t necessarily have to be a swimmer to do the event. You can still fundraise, volunteer, or just come out and be a part of it.”

Learn more about the Swim Across America Chicago Open Water Swim on July 25. 

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