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His swimming raised money for friends with cancer. Then the doctor called.


By Lane Casadonte

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    RICHMOND, Virginia (WTVR) — Growing up in Southern California, George Sushkoff couldn’t help but be in the water.

Swimming, by his own admission, was the only sport in which he saw progress.

“I grew up a lot around the water. I think I had my first wet suit at eight years old. Water skiing, body surfing. There was an ad in the paper for a local swim team. My parents said, ‘What do you think about trying this out?’ I said yeah, it sounds like fun,” Sushkoff said.

Sushkoff now measures progress differently.

Even though he holds two state master records, the camaraderie and exercise that come along with swimming have become more important than what any clock reads.

“I’ve come to terms with the times not being what they were at my peak,” he said.

Sushkoff has done dozens of swimming events to raise money for various charities and organizations. He once swam 10 miles in the Tennessee River and has taken part in Richmond’s Swim Across America event which raises money for the Massey Cancer Center.

He has been there to support friends who have been diagnosed with different versions of cancer, but he never thought of his contributions as being all that remarkable.

“I remember being there, listening to the researchers talk,” he said. “There was a friend of mine speaking who was a breast cancer survivor. I remembered just thinking well, it’s great that it helped her but I’m just going to be helping other people.”

Until he got a call from his doctor after a routine screening that asked him to meet with a surgeon.

“It was that Friday they told me, they kind of broke it gently. We got the pathology back and it did come back as cancerous,” he said.

Sushkoff had been diagnosed with stage two colon cancer.

“It’s a shock,” he said. “I was never expecting that.”

Luckily, it was caught early but is in a bad location for surgery.

“Suddenly, that changes your outlook on everything,” he said.

Sushkoff was swimming four times a week, something he was unwilling to give up.

“If I can’t swim, we’re going to have a problem,” he said. “I need that for my physical health. I need it for my mental health too.”

Within hours of his diagnosis, Sushkoff received a phone call from the CEO of Swim Across America and quickly started to understand why all those events and fundraising were so important.

“I knew they funded cancer research and clinical trials and things like that. What I didn’t know is they also do patient advocacy,” he said.

Swim Across America helped Sushkoff get a second opinion on his diagnosis and treatment all without him having to make so much as a phone call.

He now receives regular radiation treatments at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Henrico Doctor’s Hospital.

He also received a whole new perspective on what swimming has not only done for him but for thousands of others like him.

“In that group, there are several cancer survivors and they’ve gone on to do some amazing things,” he said. “There’s one that’s going to swim the English Channel next year. One that’s done the 28 bridges around Manhattan.

“It’s a lot of fun but it’s also inspiring,” he continued. “I’ve seen they were able to come out of this on the other end and do even more amazing things after the treatment and diagnosis after being in remission.”

Sushkoff has dialed back his swimming a bit, but doctors have advised him to stay active and listen to his body. He hopes others might listen to his story if they feel like they are taking on this fight alone.

“I’m hoping people will be inspired to keep life as normal as possible,” he said. “Stay active. Seek out your friends, lean on your friends, your family. You’re going to need that. You’re not going to be alone. I don’t feel like I’m alone in this whole process.”

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