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Nina swims for charity next month

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Writer Nina London swims next month to raise money for cancer patients (Photograph by Lana Leksina)
Writer Nina London is swimming to raise money for cancer patients (Photograph by Lana Leksina)

The Royal Gazette columnist Nina London celebrates five years as a uterine cancer survivor next month.

To mark the occasion, the Siberian-born Bermuda resident will do what she does almost every day of the year, swim.

“Starting at noon, on October 3, I will swim 2km at Horseshoe Bay,” Ms London said.

But this won’t be just any leisurely paddle in the sea. Ms London will be swimming to raise more than $12,000.

The money will help cancer charity PALS to create a New and Beautiful Me Class for anyone going through cancer. Once a month, attendees will hear from make-up artists, hair stylists and other beauty experts, about the best ways to look their best, while going through a difficult time.

The programme is inspired by a class Ms London attended, while undergoing cancer treatment in Miami, Florida.

“They teach you how to look better,” she said. “When you look better, you feel better and you are stronger. This workshop was wonderful because they teach you how to do eyebrows, foundation, blush. Then they give you a present of make-up donated by different companies. It was wonderful. I thought it was one of the best experiences, and to talk to other women going through the same thing was also good.”

Ms London said the programme is not superficial.

“It is much deeper than that,” she said. “For women it is important. I don’t think men are as bothered by losing their hair.”

She said it is about building confidence and self esteem at a time when many women feel at their worst.

She said some women are very strong.

“They shave their head and then go very proudly with their bald head,” she said. “They have this confidence. People say oh, yeah. But most women are not like that. It is devastating. It is one of the hardest things we go through.”

When Ms London first found out she needed chemotherapy, she was so worried about losing her hair, she briefly considered cancelling her treatment. She quickly decided it was better to lose her hair than her life.

“It was especially hard because I had just gotten married, two weeks before my cancer surgery,” she said.

While she did not lose all of her hair during chemotherapy, she did lose her eyebrows and eyelashes.

“My body tone changed,” she said. “I lost a lot of muscle mass.”

Her husband, Bill Rosser, was a support to her throughout the ordeal.

“My husband said ‘you are beautiful’, because he loves me, but it was still very hard,” she said.

When she was back in Bermuda, and feeling better, she thought it would be good to have the same workshops offered to cancer patients in Bermuda.

“I tried to call the company in the United States,” she said. “But I could not get anyone and they did not return my calls.”

She might have given up on the idea, but a short time after her attempt, a few women came to her and said when they went through their battle with cancer, they needed a programme like the one she experienced.

“They said it would help tremendously,” she said.

So she decided if she could not bring the American beauty workshop to Bermuda, she would create her own.

Ms London contacted Colleen English DeGrilla, executive director at PALS. PALS had already helped Ms London start Healing Vibes, a cancer support group offering everything from laugh therapy to qigong and emotional support. The group meets every Saturday at the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art in the Botanical Gardens in Paget.

“When I suggested the beauty classes, Colleen was so fantastic,” Ms London said. “She just jumped right on board. She said let’s do it.”

Now the hope is to do a free beauty class at PALS, once a month, for half a day. Hair stylists and make-up artists will give attendees pointers on beautifying themselves during and after cancer. They will also talk about how to handle thinning hair, and how to use scarfs and hats for best effect.

“Then we will bring them to the thrift shop and they can get an outfit for free to feel good,” Ms DeGrilla said. “We are always looking for more services to support our patients.”

The one obstacle to the plan is money. As with anything, funds are needed to hire beauty experts, offer goodie bags, and provide lunch for the women taking the workshop.

It felt natural for Ms London to turn to swimming to help her raise the money. She was a competitive swimmer in childhood in Siberia.

“I swam in the pool 100 and 200m backstroke,” she said. “I trained for two hours five times a week and went to the summer camps from the age seven to 15.”

Now she tries to swim daily, often with her husband.

“It is an interest we share,” she said. “Sometimes we swim out to the reefs to scuba dive.”

Most mornings, she gets in the water at Coral Beach in Paget and swims towards Elbow Beach.

“I swim for about an hour,” she said. “Sometimes it is rough on the South Shore, and quite hard. But I feel so good when I get in the water.”

Before cancer, she was full of energy.

“I was like a hurricane,” she said.

But seven months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment left her feeling weak.

“My husband used to say, let’s go for a walk,” she said. “I would say I can not. He would say let’s do something and I would say, I just want to lay down.”

Getting back in the water, helped her to gradually rebuild up her stamina.

“During my treatment, Bill literally dragged me to the swimming pool because he knows how much I love to swim,” she said. “I was doing water aerobics.”

But she really missed the ocean.

“It was my dream to swim and run on the beach after it would be over,” she said. “I visualised it over and over and it helped me to stay strong.”

She finally got in the sea again, in Bermuda, three months after treatment ended.

“It took me more than two years to get back to the shape I was in,” she said. “Now I swim in the ocean, or in a swimming pool, and I feel like it really helps. It is very good for the health.”

Ms London said having cancer has changed her entire way of thinking.

“I am grateful every day I am alive,” she said. “That is what it is so important. It has changed me for the better.”

She is particularly proud that the support services for cancer patients, she set up with PALS, two years ago, kept going during the pandemic.

“We kept going,” she said. “We did classes virtually.”

She said talking with other women who have been through the same thing, has helped her tremendously.

And she said her swim was partly inspired by Brittany DeMelo, who last year raised $21,000 for PALS by shaving her head.

Ms London was encouraged by the fact, that in the first week after announcing her plan, she raised $700.

“It really makes my heart sing,” Ms London said. “It was so devastating when I was trying to create the workshop and failing. I thought it was not possible, but everything is possible.”

To make a donation to Ms London’s swim go to the PALS website www.pals.bm or call PALS at 236-7257. For information about Healing Vibes e-mail nina@ninalondon.com or call 516-4536.

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Published August 30, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated August 31, 2021 at 8:05 am)

Nina swims for charity next month

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