On September 25 Berkeleyan Susan Helmrich will dive into the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay and swim across America. Not literally, of course, but she may feel she is swimming for her life.

Helmrich, a health and wellness coach who lives in south Berkeley, is a three-time cancer survivor. This time last year she was unable to participate in the Swim Across America event because she was undergoing 6.5-hour neuroendocrine pancreatic surgery which was followed by many weeks of recuperation.

Susan Helmrich.

This year, her team, Team Susan Survives, will swim 1.5 miles from under the Golden Gate Bridge into Crissy Field Beach to raise money for cancer research — along with hundreds of other intrepid souls. Swim Across America is a national initiative which has been going since 1987, and last year the Bay Area swimmers raised more than $200,000.

Berkeleyan Dr Beth Trachtenberg, a research scientist and lab director at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital, participated in the event and will do so again this year. She has witnessed first hand the way the money raised is channeled directly into cancer research. Following the 2009 event, her lab was awarded about $90,000. “We used the funds to cover a post-doctoral fellow,”she  says. “She is doing analysis to study the natural killer cells in leukemia.”

Trachtenberg is going to participate in Swim Across America this year with her 15-year-old daughter, and says at least two members of her lab will be joining them.

Beth Trachtenberg.

Swimming and donating aside, there are plenty of ways of being part of Swim Across America, including volunteering to help organize the event and kayaking to support swimmers. Visit the Swim Across America website for comprehensive information.

All of us have been affected by cancer one way or another. And most of us should be able to do something towards this great cause. As Helmrich puts it: “Last year I was recovering from my third cancer surgery. This year I’m jumpin’ in!”

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...