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Massey researcher captains Swim Across America fundraising team in honor of his wife

Sep 19, 2019


On the morning of Saturday, October 6, 2018, about 50 people snapped swim caps over their heads, adjusted their goggles and, with a few heading out at a time, waded into the currents of the upper James River and started swimming. While the athletes all had different levels of experience and were tackling different distances, they still shared a common goal: Make waves to fight cancer.

“Make waves to fight cancer” is the tagline for Swim Across America, a non-profit organization that has granted over $80 million to cancer research facilities since their first fundraising event was held in 1987. Today, they have 20 open water benefit swims and 100 annual pool swims across the country. In 2018, they partnered with Peluso Open Water in Richmond to organize a swim to support cancer research at VCU Massey Cancer Center. 

The event is now in its second year, and organizers hope participants will collectively raise $50,000, which is almost double what was raised last year. Swimmers are hard at work trying to reach their goals and are asking their networks of friends, family and colleagues to donate to or join their teams. Slowly but steadily, their fundraising thermometer is climbing. 

The swimmer currently at the top of the leaderboard also happens to be a familiar face around the cancer center. For the second year in a row, Santiago Lima, Ph.D., is the captain of Massey’s very own Swim Across America team, and, as of mid-September, they’ve already raised more than $4,000.

Lima is a member of Massey’s Cancer Cell Signaling research program and is a former competitive swimmer. He grew up in Cuernavaca, a city in south central Mexico, before moving to the United States to study biochemistry. He is a former 5-time member of the Mexican National Swim Team and a 12-time Mexican national swim champion. In addition to his impressive athletic achievements, which make him an obvious choice to captain Team Massey, Lima is also keenly aware of the importance of philanthropy in advancing cancer research, including his own studies about the role of lipids in the development of lung cancer. Every day, he sees firsthand the impact that donations have in helping researchers discover and develop more effective cancer treatments. 

Santiago Lima, Ph.D., speaks to the crowd of fundraisers before kicking off the inaugural Swim Across America Richmond Open Water Swim in 2018.

Lima’s understanding of the importance of philanthropy in advancing cancer research extends well beyond the lab. He, like so many others, has personally experienced the heartache and worry that comes when a cancer diagnosis hits close to home. In March 2017, Lima’s wife, Amanda Dickinson, Ph.D., who also works at VCU as an associate professor of developmental biology, was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma, a disease that, prior to advancements in immunotherapy, was almost always accompanied by a grim prognosis. Following her diagnosis, Dickinson began getting treatment at Massey, where she received immunotherapy, novel drug combinations, surgery and radiation. Just a year before her diagnosis, one of the drugs she was treated with was not an available option for therapy and some still are not available in other countries. 

“We believe she was lucky to have been treated at a place like Massey, which is at the forefront of fundamental research and clinical trials that make new therapies possible,” Lima said. “It is the development of new treatments that is now changing those grim statistics.”

Dickinson is part of a new era of statistics for melanoma patients. She has been in remission for a little over a year. Despite this hopeful and welcome sign, the chance for recurrence of melanoma remains high.

“At some point in the future, whether it’s six months of six years from now, it is likely Amanda will find herself again faced with battling cancer,” Lima explained. “We are hoping that with more research efforts and development of new drugs, the next line of treatments she needs will be available.” 

As a cancer researcher, Lima knows that the development of new drugs will be an expensive and lengthy undertaking, but he, Dickinson and their young son can all attest to the fact that it is worth every penny and every day of effort and hard work. 

“When you hear that fundraising campaigns say ‘every donated dollar can make a difference,’ it is not a slogan, it is a reality,” remarked Lima. “Millions and millions of dollars are spent to make small advances, and it takes many, many, many small advances to develop one single, modern effective anti-cancer therapy. For this event, we are here to ask everyone to help raise money for cancer research. Amanda is living proof of how this can make a real difference to people.”



Swim Across America needs people like you to join Lima and fundraise or donate so Massey can continue to make new discoveries and get closer to a future without cancer. You can participate by signing up to swim, by joining an existing team or by donating. New this year is also the option to float instead of swim in support of fundraising for cancer research. Participants will float 500 meters down river to the finish line. With giant team-size floats, costumes and smaller fundraising goals, the float option is a fun way for non-swimmers to participate. 

Written by: Massey Communications Office

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