Leukemia survivor holding 3rd swimathon today to help other young patients

'Be Strong and Give Back Happiness Swimathon' at Pleasanton Valley Swim Club

A fundraiser promoted by 14-year-old leukemia survivor Sarah Banholzer will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Pleasanton Valley Swim Club, 5014 Golden Road.

Banholzer, an eighth-grader at Pleasanton Middle School, dove into fundraising a few years ago to benefit UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland, which she credits with saving her life.

"I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when I was 4-1/2 years old," Sarah, the daughter of Teri and John Banholzer of Pleasanton, explains on her website. "I had 2-1/2 years of chemotherapy, several surgical procedures and lots of pokes and yucky stuff, but I am now Leukemia Free!"

In thanks, she began in 2012 to assemble Christmas cards using magazines and recycled cards and sold them to raise money to buy gifts for the kids at Children's Hospital.

Then two years ago Sarah decided to give back to the hospital via the swimming community, recalling that joining the Pleasanton Valley Swim Team at age 8 was the first "normal" activity after her young life had revolved around medical treatments.

She tagged the event the "Be Strong and Give Back Happiness Swimathon," using the six words she chose as a school assignment to describe her life. The first swimathon raised $15,000 and last year's, $14,000.

The money has been used to help buy video equipment to film a weekly variety show young patients enjoy over closed circuit TV. It has also paid for a lot of arts and crafts supplies, three life-sized medical dolls and Chemo Ducks, cuddly companions that help alleviate kids' fears and anxieties as they undergo chemotherapy.

Sarah has also chosen to fund discharge pill boxes, to help families manage the myriad prescriptions they must manage for their young oncology patient when he or she goes home.

"My mom can remember on several of my discharges, leaving with a large shopping bag full of medications -- a little overwhelming," Sarah said. "Now these patients have their first week's meds sorted by the nurse in a daily pill box for home to hopefully avoid any possible confusion."

"This seems simple and low-cost, but unfortunately the hospital exists on a very tight budget," she added. "So that's why these funds that you help raise are so important."

This year, she also plans to buy decals to brighten and add interest to the children's rooms, Buzzy Bees that block pain with cold and vibrations as children have blood drawn or medicine administered, and medical play kits that children can keep.

Swimathon funds are also used to keep up Sarah's tradition of buying Christmas gifts for those hospitalized during the holiday season that she gives out while caroling in the hospital halls with friends.

This year, the fundraiser includes an online auction, which starts on Monday (April 4) and ends at 5 p.m. the day of the swimathon, with all proceeds going to the hospital. The link is:

Last year 75 swimmers participated, doing 4,097 laps -- or 58.19 miles. Sarah will be there to swim and to cheer on everyone else.

To register to swim online.


Like this comment
Posted by JATIN
a resident of Country Fair
on Apr 7, 2016 at 6:59 pm

I am very proud of you Sarah Banholzer. And you are blessed that parents supported you to make you cancer free. I am also a Leukemia survivor. It is not easy to go through all those Chemo and followup treatments. You are still very young so you will do great. I am 68 yr old so I had to go out of state for my treatments since bay area hospital are still not experienced to treat senior citizen safely for leukemia. Now our grand daughters participates in cancer fundraisers.

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