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Cancer: Teen Leukemia Survivor Gives Back by Raising Money for Gene Research

( [email protected] ) Jun 20, 2014 12:41 AM EDT
After beating an aggressive form of leukemia, 17 year old Nicole Graham now works to raise money for cancer research. To celebrate her high school graduation the former athlete will embark on an open water swim to benefit the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy.
In her last two years of high school, 17-year-old Nicole Graham went from being a tri-varsity athlete to a leukemia patient. Now, as a survivor, (Fox News)

After surviving an aggressive form of leukemia, 17 years old Nicole Graham wants to work to help alleviate cancer.

This week, Graham celebrates her high school graduation, and will celebrate by volunteering with Swim Across America's Greenwhich, Conn. Event, an open water swim in Long Island Sound whose proceeds benefit the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, Fox News reports.

ACGT is the only non-profit organization exclusively dedicated to cancer cell and gene therapy treatment for cancer.

"It's a great way to end my athletic career at Greenwich High School, with a big swim supporting something I love," says the Graham, who plans to attend Dartmouth College in the fall.

Graham's road as a cancer survivor has not been an easy one. She was diagnosed at 16 with B-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia after noticing a bruise on her stomach. After receiving blood and platelet transfusions and chemotherapy, doctors told Graham she was in remission.

But two weeks later, Graham went into septic shock and had to be put in a medically induced coma, during which she had two strokes, which left her unable to talk, walk, eat, or function normally.

"Because of the strokes or the two weeks of immobility [in the coma], my body didn't know what to do," Graham told Fox News. "I had lost 30 pounds and 60 percent of my muscle mass. My mom called me a "rag doll."

After waking from her coma, Graham was transferred to a children's hospital in New York where she relearned basic functions and completed her junior year of high school.

However, Graham returned to school-and sports-for her senior year.

"Before, I had been a tri-varsity athlete, the doctors think that's the main reason why I was able to recover so fast," she said. "I was also so determined; I'm not going to let this be who I am."

Today, Graham volunteers with Swim Across America, speaking at last year's event and working to raise money for the organization.

"She's just tremendous," said Matt Vossler, co-founder of SAA. "What she's been able to overcome, just personally, with her own health, and what she's been able to do in the broader space of Fairfield Copunty is really inspiring," he continued.

The non-profit organization aims to fight cancer through swimming, holding 18 open water swims and hundreds of pools swims around the country annually. Since 1987, SAA has raised over $55 million for cancer research and treatment efforts.

SAA: Greenwhich will be held June 21st and hopes to have 200 swimmers and hit their fundraising goal of $500,000.