Swimmer braves open water for Hannah

Long-distance swimmer Kerri Kanuga will hit the open waters off Key West, Florida, this weekend to help raise awareness of childhood cancers and in honor of 6-year-old cancer patient Hannah Meeson. 

“We are blown away by Kerri’s efforts to raise awareness and funding for pediatric cancer research and thank her from the bottom of our hearts,” said Hannah’s mother Gaylene Meeson. 

Hannah has been battling anaplastic medulloblastoma, a fast growing high-grade tumor, since she was first diagnosed at age 4. Since then, she has touched the lives of hundreds of Cayman Islands residents, 35 of whom shaved their heads to raise funds for childhood cancers at a Heroes for Hannah event last September. 

Today, Hannah is cancer-free with no sign of any tumors, but the 22 months of intensive treatments have taken their toll. After undergoing various treatments, including 13 rounds of chemotherapy, Hannah suffered a number of medical conditions affecting her motor functions and basic bodily functions, and she endured hearing loss and nerve damage. 

While Hannah’s parents are happy to report their daughter is cancer-free, her mother said the family is not out of the woods yet as there is still no cure for Hannah’s type of cancer. Statistically, Hannah has less than a 5 percent chance of living to see her 10th birthday. 

At the same time, Ms. Meeson said, “We can’t live by statistics, they are just numbers and we cannot let cancer define and determine the way we live. We choose to live in the moment, appreciating that life is a precious gift and that our circumstances can change in an instant.” 

Ms. Kanuga will swim 12.5 miles around Key West, at the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys, for more than 10 hours on Saturday during the Florida Keys Community College Swim Around Key West, known as the FKCC Swim.  

The open water swimmer has completed a rigorous training schedule in the run-up to the event, recently logging more than 30 miles in the water in one week.  

“[The training] has given me a lot of time to think about Hannah and other kids battling cancer. Before I knew about Hannah, I knew very little about childhood cancer and the lack of funding it receives. Awareness is a huge part of the problem. If people do not know they cannot do anything about it,” she said. 

“When I’m not thinking about Hannah or food, I think about Katharine, who is a 14-foot, 2,300-pound great white shark that is currently pinging off Key West,” she added. 

The Canadian swimmer is what some might call an open-water veteran, having been one of the first to complete a 9.76-mile double crossing of the Cayman Brac Channel, together with Alex Harling, Andrea Roach and Elizabeth Berns in July 2012. Ms. Kanuga has also been impacted personally by cancer, having lost friends and family members, including her father last June.  

“Hannah is a beautiful, brave little girl who simply was given a bad hand. I know that if I experience discomfort when I train, I can simply stop. These kids are not given that luxury and it breaks my heart that they have to go through this,” said Ms. Kanuga. 

Those interested in supporting Ms. Kanuga’s fund-raising efforts can donate to the Heroes For Hannah fund online at www.stbaldricks.org/fundraisers/hundredforhannah. 

“St. Baldricks is a wonderful organization, they only fund pediatric cancer research and they do it well. We are delighted that Kerri has chosen our hero fund, “Heroes for Hannah” as her inspiration and motivation to complete such a grueling challenge,” said Ms. Meeson. 


Hannah Meeson, 6, with her mother Gaylene Meeson.