“Breast Cancer Took my Mother’s Life:” A Battle that Goes Beyond the Racing Blocks 

Photo Courtesy: Dar Raz
Photo Courtesy: Dar Raz

By Olivia McKelvey, Swimming World College Intern.

According to the American Cancer Society, 40,920 women are expected to die from breast cancer by the end of this year. Over 40,920 families will be left without a mother, a sister, or perhaps even without a daughter. While 40,920 lives will be lost, millions will be left to deal with the aftermath of grief and bereavement. Those who are left behind have memories to hold onto, legacies to live up to, and stories to tell. This story in particular is the tale of a girl whose world came crashing down in 2013 when her mother passed away after a ten-year-long battle with breast cancer – but this is also a story of how the power of sport came to transform anguish and mourning into recovery and acceptance.

Uncertainty Abroad

Traveling more than 6,000 miles overseas from Tel Aviv, Israel, Dar Raz found herself yearning for home already on the flight to the U.S. With her national letter of intent already signed to become a member of Florida Institute of Technology’s swim team, she was thrilled to be competing at an elite level while having the opportunity to get an education abroad. However, she couldn’t seem to rid herself of the trepidation that came along with the fact of leaving her ill mother behind.

The Journey Back

Raz-breast-cancer

Photo Courtesy: Dar Raz

“It was 3 a.m. when I picked up the phone only one week after settling into school, and at that moment, I knew it was bad. I could sense the fear and urgency shaking in my father’s voice as he told me I needed to come home, and I needed to come home now,” Raz said. “I remember on the flight home, I was honestly expecting to return to a funeral. I didn’t know if I would make it back in time to to look her in the eyes one more time to tell her how much I loved her.”

Fortunately, Raz made it back home to see her mother again one last time. What the doctors thought seemed like only hours left to live turned into days, which turned into weeks, which turned into three more months. Unfortunately, on Oct. 5, 2013, Tali Raz had officially lost the battle to breast cancer.

The Aftermath

Dar did not come back to the U.S. until winter training camp at the end of December. She found herself in a sea of emotions and ambiguity; the Dar who came back was different from the one who had arrived at FIT earlier in August:

Coming back to college after I lost my mom was one of the hardest things I have done in my twenty-four years. I knew coming back to Florida is what she would have wanted me to do, so I took that leap of faith for her – and I’m so incredibly glad that I did. Breast cancer took the life of my mom, but life gave me a second family the moment I became part of Florida Tech Swimming.

Actions Speak louder than Words

When Raz returned to practice and saw her teammates and coaches for the first time in months, a lot of individuals did not know how to react or what to say to a person they had only met for a week. Although some did not vocally express their grievances, it was rather what they did versus what they said that meant more than anything else:

My team allowed me to find a sense of normalcy: a feeling which I had become estranged to. It was the small things like a warm smile before diving into the water for warm-up or a squeeze on the shoulder after a tough set to show camaraderie. Those were the things that helped me get through some of my darkest days on deck. My team welcomed me back with open arms and wore their hearts on their sleeves for me.

Swimming for A Greater Cause

floridatech-breast-cancer

Photo Courtesy: David Dent

Swimming World not only tells this story to bring attention to breast cancer awareness month but also to demonstrate the values of team and the unbreakable bonds that sports form. Three years after Tali Raz passed away, Florida Tech hosted a breast cancer awareness meet where swimmers expressed their love and support by wearing a pink cap and swam for a cause beyond a PR or a championship title.

Other college swimming programs have also showed support through breast cancer awareness month. In fact, in 2015, nine Division I teams alone held “think pink” meets to show their support. So as October comes to a close and you step onto the block for what may seem like the one thousandth time in your swimming career, this time take a stroke for the greater good. Fight off the pain for those who couldn’t, and touch the wall with a sense of purpose.

In Remembrance of Tali Raz

Tali-Raz

Photo Courtesy: Dar Raz

Even in her sickest days, Tali Raz always found the good in life. She acted as a source of inspiration for her daughter to be a brave, strong and driven person.

“My mother may be gone, but I got an extra ten years with her because the doctors caught the cancer early. I cannot stress the importance of breast cancer awareness enough, and I’m so proud that my team and so many other college teams have had a voice in this cause. I only can hope that my mother is looking down upon all of this and she too is hearing the voices.”

All interviews and research is conducted by the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.