Jun 20 2022

A Story Of Friendship And A Cause

By Swim Across America Charleston-Kiawah for Island Eye News

Brad Johnson, co-chair of the Swim Across America Charleston-Kiawah open water swim, with one of the event’s participants. Brad and his co-chair Jana will be overseeing the big open water swim on June 12.  

Brad Johnson and Jana Chanthabane didn’t know each other until they met and joined the Swim Across America community in 2018 when the inaugural Swim Across America Charleston-Kiawah swim took place. What brought them to the swimming event was much deeper than the beautiful location and their love of swimming. Both Brad and Jana are cancer survivors – Jana is a breast cancer survivor and Brad is a head and neck cancer survivor. Since getting involved with the Swim Across America event, which raises funds to fight cancer, both took on larger roles than just swimming – they are also the co-event directors and lead the organization in raising crucial funds for the local Swim Across America beneficiary the Hollings Cancer Center. 

Jana Chanthabane (2nd from right), co-chair of the Swim Across America Charleston-Kiawah open water swim, along with family at a previous Swim Across America Charleston-Kiawah event. This year’s open water swim will be June 12.

Jana Chanthabane was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35. As a young, fit, active mom of three kids all under the age of nine, Jana was not “new” to cancer. Her dad had thyroid cancer when she was a teenager and her cousin had just completed treatment for breast cancer when Jana was diagnosed. “I remember being stuck with the feeling of needing to do SOMETHING to help my girls for the future, my family and other women that I love,” said Jana. 

For Brad Johnson, in 2003 he was diagnosed at age 27 with late-stage head and neck cancer. He was lucky to find and enroll in a clinical trial at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute that was investigating new treatment protocols for these rare, extremely aggressive head and neck cancers, which were starting to appear in younger people with no directly related risk factors. 

Dana-Farber made a major impact on the way head and neck cancer is treated today. Prior to the clinical trial, there were no effective treatment protocols. “Since undergoing my cancer treatments, raising funds for cancer research and patient support have been a big part of my life,” said Brad. “I know personally the impact that breakthrough research can have on a person’s life and I want to see more cancer research save even more lives. With Swim Across America events like the one in Charleston-Kiawah, we can all make a difference.” While Swim Across America has only held events in the CharlestonKiawah area for five years, the nonprofit organization has been making waves to fight cancer for 35 years and has gone from a sunken boat in Long Island Sound to raising $100 million to fight cancer. This year celebrates Swim Across America’s 35th anniversary and the nonprofit organization is sharing “35 Stories of Impact” from throughout the decades on its anniversary website swimacrossamerica.org/35. Jana and Brad’s stories are included in those stories of impact, since they have had such a profound impact on the way cancer research is funded in the Charleston-Kiawah area. In the 35 years of Swim Across America’s existence, more than 100,000 swimmers and Olympians have swum the circumference of the earth three times, uniting a movement to fight cancer that has created a groundswell of support spanning all generations. Today, more than 24 communities hold open water swims and charity pool swims each year. Swim Across America’s funding of clinical trials for patients helped contribute to four FDA approved life-saving immunotherapy cancer treatments: Yervoy, Opdivo, Tecentriq and Keytruda. More than 60 scientific grants are funded each year and there are ten dedicated Swim Across America Labs at major institutions including: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, John Hopkins Medicine Baltimore, Rush University Medical Center Chicago, Baylor Scott & White Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center at Dallas, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center New York, Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Palliative and Supportive Care of Nantucket, Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Lounge at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and San Francisco and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. 

Locally in the Charleston-Kiawah area, Swim Across America has raised more than $200,000 for its local beneficiary the Hollings Cancer Center. In late 2021, SAA – Charleston-Kiawah grant recipient Dr. Haizhen Wang was awarded a five-year, $344,000 per year grant by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to pursue her early investigator studies in leukemia. 

Prior to receiving NCI funding, Wang’s research was supported by $65,000 in grants from Swim Across America. This year’s swim was scheduled for Saturday, June 12 at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Night Heron Park, and Brad and Jana are once again running the event and are hoping to raise at least $75,000 for cancer research. 

To learn more about the Charleston Kiawah swim or to register to swim or volunteer, visit swimacrossamerica.org/charleston. To see Swim Across America’s “35 Stories of Impact,” featuring Brad Johnson and Jane Chanthabane’s full story, visit swimacrossamerica.org/35.

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