By Ginger Templeton

When our daughter Lindsay turned five, we signed her up for swim lessons. Like most parents, my husband and I wanted her to be safe and confident around the water, but we also had another motivation. Just two years earlier, at the tender age of three, Lindsay was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, more common in adults than in children, called AML. She spent the better part of 6 months as an inpatient at Brenner Children’s Hospital. Her tiny body endured five rounds of high-dose chemotherapy. She received hundreds of blood tests, x-rays, CT scans, dozens of blood and platelet transfusions.

When Lindsay achieved remission, we were cautioned that the risk of relapse was high, around 40% in the first year. We were also told that, for some patients, there are late effects from chemo. In particular, she was at risk for developing heart disease. We heard stories of children who survived their cancer, only to eventually require a heart transplant. The list of possible complications was long and terrifying, but we were encouraged by Lindsay’s bright smile and positive attitude.

As silly as it may sound, deep down I hoped swimming might become a lifelong habit, a sport to enjoy no matter what challenges lay ahead. I knew swimming wouldn’t prevent heart disease or relapse. On the other hand, it couldn’t hurt, right? I was willing to try anything to keep Lindsay physically and emotionally healthy after her treatment. Swim lessons seemed like a good place to start.

That was almost nine years ago. We never could have guessed how far Lindsay would come. Lindsay started swimming on the summer team the year after first grade. In the fourth grade, she earned a spot on YOTA, a competitive, year-round swim team. Now at the age of 12, she swims 6 days, 13+ hours every week, 11 months out of the year. She arrives at practice with a smile and rarely complains when she comes home and still has homework to do.

Through swimming, Lindsay also discovered a love for triathlons. She has participated in one adult triathlon, as well as 11 triathlons for kids. Three of those were with Just TRyan It, an organization dedicated to raising money for families of children facing cancer. Over the last three years, Lindsay has shared her story and raised over $8,000 for families of kids with cancer.

Despite her love for triathlons and swimming, she doesn’t talk about going to the Olympics or swimming in college. Instead, her focus is on giving back. She loves fundraising for families going through cancer, but her ultimate goal is even bigger. Lindsay plans to become a pediatric oncologist and help kids who are as scared as she once was.

Nine years ago, sitting in a hospital room, our only wish was that Lindsay would make it to her fourth birthday. Her friends were riding bikes with training wheels, and she was breathing supplemental oxygen and being kept alive with blood transfusions. At the time, it was too scary to dream about the future. But the future is here. This Friday, Lindsay will turn 13. As I write this, she’s chatting away about running the Smile Mile at swim practice and how much pasta she’s going to eat for her birthday dinner. I can’t wait to see what the next ten years hold.