Breast cancer survivor celebrates with a victory lap in English Channel

World Today

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The most common cancer among women globally, breast cancer, with early diagnosis and a lot of struggle, can often be overcome and followed by a full life.

That’s the message one American swimmer has for the world. She took a literal victory lap through lanes known more for shipping and made history in the process.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

“When you’re in open water, compared to a swimming pool, it is much more free,” Sarah Thomas said recently. “It’s just a completely different experience.”

Open water swimming is 37-year-old Thomas’ passion. A late afternoon dip in a Colorado lake was nothing compared to the endurance swims she’s completed over the years, swims that left her feeling like she could take on the world.

Then in 2017, Thomas was told she had breast cancer.

“Getting a diagnosis like that especially at that time of my life was soul-stopping,” she said.

Would she live, she asked herself. Would she ever swim again?

“And you don’t know any of that at the beginning,” she said. “And it’s terrifying, really, really terrifying.”

Thomas endured nine months of intense treatment: chemotherapy, radiation and a mastectomy, with two overriding goals in mind.

One was beating back the disease. The other was swimming four lengths of the English Channel non-stop, which no one had done before.

She committed to the project before she became ill and was determined to see it through. Last month, she took the plunge.

“It was hard,” Thomas said. “Until you’re in the water doing it you can’t really know what’s going to be thrown at you.”

She battled jellyfish, saltwater and strong currents with only a support boat by her side.

“Anytime I stopped for more than like a minute, they were yelling at me, hurry up, keep going, come on, let’s go, let’s move,” she said. “It can feel really alone especially in the middle of the night. You have to be very comfortable with your own thoughts or else you can get into a really dark place.”

It took 55 straight hours, more than 200 kilometers of swimming, for her to conquer the Channel, a grueling feat that’s brought her worldwide attention.

“I had no expectation that my story would resonate with people the way that it has,” Thomas said. “I have been getting so many messages from other cancer patients telling me that my story has inspired them. It’s overwhelming really.”

During this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Thomas hopes her story, her accomplishment, provides others an extra bit of strength and tells them their struggles can be overcome.

“It’s a journey,” she said. “Life is a journey. Both in swimming and in cancer, I just think it’s good to have a goal in your life. And to work hard to achieve it.”

She’s done that twice now, in the open water and by being cancer-free for a year. There are more goals to come, she vows, give her time.

“There will be something,” she said, before diving into the chilly lake for her last open water swim of the year.