By Emily J Weitz
Cancer is a vicious beast that virtually everyone has faced in some way or another. But for all the destruction that cancer has caused, it has also had a way of bringing out the warrior in people. This weekend, Swim Across America takes place here with the Hamptons Open Water Swim. This national organization has found a strong foothold here with representative and cancer fighter Wendy Tarlow who has been involved with the swim since it started on the East End three years ago.
“I got involved on a minor level,” she says, “because it was helpful to me. I wanted to get involved with something positive.”
In a fight against an elusive, ever-changing enemy, cancer patients often feel that so much is out of their control.
“This is something I can control,” says Tarlow, who lives in Sag Harbor. “The [Swim Across America board] doesn’t know what fuels this massive enthusiasm. But I say it’s something that’s driving me, fueling some intention towards wanting to get better and make a difference.”
Tarlow has worked with a variety of cancer organizations, but she’s passionate about Swim Across America because all the proceeds go right to research, and that’s what’s going to save lives.
“It’s about cancer research,” she says. “This money is going directly to hospitals and patients. It’s not going to CEO’s pockets. Everyone who works for Swim Across America is a volunteer.”
As a result of the successes of Swim Across America, the organization has been able to fund groundbreaking research projects.
“The swim has its own lab at Sloan-Kettering,” says Tarlow. “They came out with the first melanoma vaccine last year, and the hope is that they’ll come out with less toxic drugs. This is truly giving me some hope, some amount of control to feel like I’m a part of research on some level.”
Tarlow has been called “Tornado Tarlow” by the people at Swim Across America because of her success in fundraising and raising awareness. She was asked to be part of their Executive Committee that is involved with swims across Long Island. She is investing in building the Hamptons Open Water Swim, because she believes it could become a 1 to 2 million dollar fundraiser in the years to come.
Wendy is not the only warrior on Team Tarlow and Hand. More than 40 people will be swimming for the team this weekend, and they’ve already raised over $50,000. Tommy Hand, formerly of Sag Harbor, was a friend of Tarlow’s growing up, and they were diagnosed with cancer at the same time.
“When I was diagnosed,” says Hand, “I went right to the American Cancer Society and started doing volunteer hours.”
Before he got sick, he valued volunteering. But once he was diagnosed, he really began to understand what it was to need help.
“At some time,” he says, “we all need it, and if you don’t put some money in your bank it may not be there when you need it. I think if you build up your karma, or your good acts, I don’t think you’ll be left alone.”
Part of it is having the support of the community around you so you don’t go it alone, says Hand. But the other part is making an impact.
“You want to leave something behind,” says Hand. “You want to leave that you were a good person. Then you never die. Maybe you taught someone about their life through your life, and then they teach someone else. By making an impact, you live right on here on Earth, by living through others.”
The Hamptons Open Water Swim will take place this Saturday, July 7 from 6 to 10 a.m. The Swim starts and ends in Amagansett at Fresh Pond Beach. There is a half mile swim, a mile swim, and a three-mile swim. You can sign up the day of the event or in advance at www.swimacrossamerica.org. Adults 18 and over need to raise (or donate) at least $500 and swimmers younger than 18 need to raise at least $300.
On Sunday evening, July 8, Tommy Hand will host a casual potluck barbecue at Long Beach where people can drop a few dollars in a bucket to support cancer research. All are invited to bring a dish and a lawn chair and meet the community to support each other.
“I want everyone in one place at one time,” he says. “I want to show everybody that their help has made a difference, that I am still around. I want everyone to know each other like they used to and help each other like we should.”