Sarah Banholzer, 16, who began treatment for leukemia before she was old enough to attend school, is holding her fifth annual Be Strong and Give Back Happiness Swimathon on April 22 to benefit the hospital that treated her.
This year the swimathon takes on new meaning because since November, the Pleasanton teen has been undergoing chemo again for lymphoma.
"It came as a great shock to us all, and although it really stinks to have to watch her go through this battle again, we know that she will beat this," her mother Teri Banholzer said. "She is the strongest and bravest person that I know."
"We were actually thinking about taking this year off from the swimathon, but Sarah insists that we must keep the tradition going," Teri added.
"The doctors do not know whether this is a relapse of Sarah's leukemia or a new occurrence," she explained. "Unfortunately, the chemotherapy can cause secondary cancers so this may be what has occurred."
Beginning at the age of 4, Sarah underwent chemotherapy and several surgical procedures for 2-1/2 years at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland. When she was declared leukemia-free and was finally able to enjoy life at her home in Pleasanton, she began to hold various fundraisers to make life more enjoyable for other youngsters while they undergo treatment at the hospital.
She finally settled on the annual swimathon at Pleasant Valley Swim Club, where she joined the team at age 8.
"She was still undergoing chemo, but it was her entry back into the normalcy of a kid," Teri recalled.
The swimathon's name comes from a fifth-grade school assignment Sarah had to describe her life in six words when she chose: "Be Strong and Give Back Happiness." The swimathon has become a popular annual event in the community and has raised more than $50,000 so far.
Last week, Teri said that Sarah had been feeling good and was receiving only oral chemo, which gave her a break from going to the hospital.
"She fills her days with schoolwork," Teri reported. "She is busily trying to stay on top of it all and is doing a great job. She will be working through the summer but should hopefully have all of her sophomore courses completed by the end of summer. And we hope that she will be back on campus for her junior year."
Make a splash
What: Fifth annual Be Strong and Give Back Happiness Swimathon
Who: Sarah Banholzer to benefit UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland
When: 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. April 22
Where: Pleasant Valley Swim Club, 5014 Golden Ave.
To participate: Collect pledges for each lap you swim, and sign up for a 30-minute swimming time slot at 2018bestrongswimathon.eventbrite.com; email email@example.com; or call 918-2727.
Other: Everyone is invited to stop by for a bake sale, drawing and snack bar.