Relay Heroes: Linda and Vanessa Swaim

By Kitsey E. Burns kburns@civitasmedia.com

May 8, 2014

Though unrelated, two Relay for Life participants share both a survivor story and a last name. Linda and Vanessa Swaim are both breast cancer survivors, longtime Relay for Life participants and proponents of being proactive when it comes to health concerns.

Linda Swaim has battled not only breast cancer, but also cervical, liver and bone cancers. When she moved to Boonville in 2003, she started a Relay for Life team at Boonville Baptist Church.

“I’ve been involved with trying to fight cancer for many, many years,” Linda Swaim said.

Her team, the Boonville Baptist Beacons, is one of the top fundraising teams in the Yadkin County Relay.

“I have the best team in the world,” Swaim said. “The most caring, hard working, determined people you would ever meet in your life. We’re a small church, on average 125 in attendance, but they just do amazing things.”

The Beacons have come in first place in fundraising for the Yadkin Relay more than once and came in second place by only $100 to a larger team from Phillips Van Heusen last year.

“It’s just amazing,” Swaim said. “My Relay for Life team, they are one in a million.”

The Boonville Baptist Beacons do a number of events throughout the year, including a low country boil that Swaim said is one of their most popular.

“It’s something that’s asked to be repeated every year,” Swaim said. “It’s our biggest fundraiser as far as people coming and enjoying the food.”

Swaim said that her team of 24 works hard throughout the year to raise funds for Relay for Life which goes to the American Cancer Society for research and programming related to cancer.

“The actual Relay is on May 9 and every year after the event we continue on raising money because we get credit until the end of August, but then immediately after that, we do the kick off for the next year so we’re continually having the cancer research on our minds,” Swaim said.

Having been diagnosed with four different and very serious types of cancer, including a diagnosis of liver cancer with a prognosis of only three months to live, Swaim said awareness and continued research were vital to those facing cancer.

“When I had the breast cancer [in 1994] it was very seldom talked about and now breast cancer is a big thing, well cancer is, too, but it gets more attention,” she said. “I feel like the every day people who are involved with these things [research and awareness] are the people who keep it to the fore front.

About her own participation in raising awareness and funds for cancer research through Relay, Swaim said, “There’s no way I wouldn’t want to do this.

“I’ve been through so many different drugs and so many different treatments and it’s getting better,” she said. “I’m still here.”

For Vanessa Swaim, being bold and proactive about her health concerns is what lead to her own diagnosis of breast cancer in 2004. Though it was not time for her mammogram yet, she said she noticed something unusual and insisted that it be checked. Even after doing a biopsy, her doctor insisted everything was fine and she was even told that it would not be necessary to bring a family member along with her to the appointment. So Swaim ended up being alone when she was told she did have breast cancer.

The doctor recommended only a minor surgery to remove the lump, but Swaim insisted on having a mastectomy instead and during the surgery it was discovered there was additional cancer in her breast tissue.

“I feel like that I saved my own life, not the doctors,” she said. Swaim said that anyone in a similar situation should keep pushing if they feel that something is wrong because early detection can save lives.

Linda Swaim also agreed that early detection is one of the most important keys to survival for those diagnosed with cancer. Because of her first round of cancer in 1971, Swaim said her doctors always kept a frequent check on her which aided in early detection with her other cancers as well.

“Early detection is a big part of why I’m still here,” Linda Swaim said. She also said her faith and positive attitude, and the support from her Relay team have helped her to keep on going.

“I believe that you have to be positive,” she said. “A positive attitude is the biggest thing going for anybody.”

The support and understanding from other Relay participants are a big part of why both Linda and Vanessa continue to be involved.

“You have friends. You have people to talk to. The Relay people, they are more than helpful,” said Vanessa Swaim.

Vanessa Swaim has served as the Survivor chairperson on the Yadkin Relay for Life committee for the last three years and looks forward to the annual Survivor Dinner.

“I don’t put myself as a survivor that night even though I am,” she said. “I put myself as a person helping someone.”

She also said that one of the most powerful moments for her, is the Survivor lap at Relay.

“You walk around there and they’re playing the bagpipes and you don’t even hear a bird chirping. It’s really somber and something comes over you and just makes you feel relieved,” she said.

Both Linda and Vanessa Swaim will be taking that lap again this Friday at the kick off the 2014 Yadkin County Relay for Life at Forbush High School.

Kitsey E. Burns can be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.