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Scots cancer survivor takes the plunge for Swimathon

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Donna McGuire will raise funds for cancer charities in memory of her sister

A courageous cancer survivor who lost her sister to the disease has been chosen to launch Swimathon in Scotland.

Donna McGuire was heartbroken after breast cancer claimed the life of her sister Gwen Angus aged 50. Today Donna who carries the faulty BRCA2 gene, known to increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, is determined to do everything she can to support life-saving research and uncover the genetic link to cancer which has cast a shadow over her family’s life.

Now she’s inspired pals Kelly McIntrye and Lynne Morgan to join her and support the Swimathon Festival 2021. The women have set themselves the challenge of swimming in as many lochs as possible over one weekend, from September 10 to 12 to raise money for Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie. They’re members of Perthshire’s ‘Wild Doukers’ swimming group who open water swim all through the year.

Donna, 56, of Blairgowrie, said: “I’ll do everything I can to make the lives of people with cancer better and to protect future generations.

“We swim outside in the loch at 6.30am every morning, even through the winter. Sometimes it feels not so much like swimming but ice breaking then submerging in freezing water. But I always feel amazing afterwards. The friendships I’ve made and the conversations I’ve had are unforgettable.

“It can feel a bit cold at times when you first go in to the water but once you get over that it’s brilliant. I’ve seen osprey soar across the sky, deer in the fields. It’s wonderful.

“Open water swimming this summer is just as special and I’m glad to support Swimathon. Everything my family and I have been through means I understand all too clearly why events such as Swimathon are so vital to support the work of charities like Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie.”

In the 1970s, four in 10 women diagnosed with breast cancer survived their disease beyond 10 years, now it’s around eight in 10. Cancer Research UK funded scientists played a vital role in the discovery of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Faults in these genes increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Thanks to Cancer Research UK’s work, women like Donna with a family history can today find out whether they’re at increased risk and potentially take steps to prevent breast cancer.

Specialists estimate that around seven in 10 women (70%) with a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will develop breast cancer by the age of 80. These genes also increase the risk of ovarian cancer.

Donna who is mum to Kirsty, 30, and Eilidh, 27, knows exactly how vital research is.

When Donna was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was the fifth time the disease had struck her family. Her gran and two of her aunties had also had the disease as well as her sister Gwen. But it was Gwen who became the first person in their family to be tested for the faulty gene after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003.

After Gwen tested positive for the BRCA2 gene, Donna decided to go for counselling then be tested. Donna discovered she also carried the gene and

had preventative surgery to remove her ovaries aged 42. She also started annual mammograms and MRI scans to check for cancer.

The scans came back clear for almost a decade until May 2016 when tests showed Donna had cancer in her right breast. She had surgery at Ninewells hospital in Dundee to remove both breasts followed by 15 sessions of radiotherapy.

Donna said: “It was an incredibly hard few months.

“My mum died from dementia on the Friday before I was due to have cancer surgery. I went to mum’s funeral a few days after getting out of hospital. I didn’t think of myself as being strong. I just thought, I’ve got to do this, for my children, for Gwen’s children and for my husband Andrew. I thought, ‘I’ve got a lot of living still to do.”

Donna’s sister Gwen who died on March 23 2011 at Roxburghe House in Aberdeen, eight years after being diagnosed with cancer is missed every day.

Donna said: “I miss my sister all the time.

“Gwen dying left a huge hole in our family. I’m still here. I was fortunate they caught the cancer in time. The more we talk about cancer and the more we fundraise, the more lives will be saved in the future. I’m proud to support Swimathon for Gwen, for her daughters, my daughters and in honour of everyone whose lives have been affected by cancer. ”

Organisers are set to celebrate a festival of swimming from September 10 to 12 with the Swimathon and Open Water Swimathon events taking place on the same weekend for the first time at pools and venues across the UK. And if swimmers can’t make one of the organised sessions, they can sign up to MySwimathon, which takes place from September 3 to 19, and choose a time and venue that suits them.

The Swimathon Festival offers a variety of distances for all ages and abilities – from 400m, up to a Triple 5k, and a new 30.9k option.

Swimathon has raised more than £55m for charities since it began in 1986. This year will also see the Swimathon Foundation donate £2.50 from every entry fee to help protect Swimathon pools and venues for the future, following the impact of the pandemic.

Not only will taking part help to raise money, it has mental and physical health benefits too. Moderate exercise such as swimming can help build stamina, burn calories and keep a healthy body weight, which reduces the risk of a range of diseases including cancer. Swimming regularly is also gentle on the joints, canlower stress levels, reduce anxiety and depression, andimprove sleep patterns. 

Lisa Adams, Cancer Research UK spokeswoman for Scotland, said: “The Swimathon Festival offers a challenge for all open water or pool swimmers whether they’re early divers or evening dippers, fast lane speedsters or leisurely lappers. There are lots of great benefits to taking part, not least the chance to enjoy the water while raising money for causes which are close to the hearts of so many.

“So, we hope everyone will grab their caps and costumes and sign up now to help us keep making transformative steps in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. One in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime**. All of us can support the research that will beat it.”   Mark Winton, Head of Community Fundraising at Marie Curie, said: “We’re so excited that pools have re-opened and people can once again take the plunge and make a splash while helping raise vital donations for Marie Curie. At Marie Curie, we rely on the support of the amazing public to ensure our nurses can keep caring for people at the end of their lives and that grieving people in the UK can get the care and support they need. Every penny raised helps us make a difference to the end of life care people in the UK receive.”

Sign up to the Swimathon Festival 2021 online.



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