May 28, 2024

Brown PhD Student Makes Waves to Fight Cancer – in the Water and the Lab

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21st Century Woman Payton De La Cruz Supports Cancer Research at Women & Infants Hospital and, on September 9, at Swim Across America’s Rhode Island Charity Swim

As a PhD student in cancer immunology at Brown University, Providence resident Payton De La Cruz knows first-hand how important philanthropy is to cancer research. When the opportunity arose to support the national nonprofit that funds her work at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island’s Program in Women’s Oncology, Payton jumped — or dove — at the chance to “make waves” in the fight against cancer.

On Saturday, September 9, Payton will volunteer and swim for the second time in New England’s largest charity swim, the 14th Annual Swim Across America - Rhode Island open water swim, at scenic Roger Wheeler State Beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island. This event hosts 35 fundraising teams, more than 100 volunteers, and 650 college, youth, Masters, and recreational swimmers — including Olympians such as Rhode Islander Elizabeth Beisel — who will unite for a morning of celebration, reflection, and swimming in the ocean. To register or donate, visit swimacrossamerica.org/rhodeisland.

“I’ve swum recreationally my entire life, so I was excited to learn that Swim Across America funds the Woman and Infants Hospital labs I work in under Drs. Kate Grive and Nicole James,” said Payton. “Swim Across America’s mission aligns with my values, and its support of our translational research in early-stage breast and gynecologic cancer has been vital.”

Payton sits on Swim Across America’s Rhode Island event planning committee. Earlier this year, she attended the Swim Across America national leadership summit and subsequently joined the associate board, which supports the nonprofit’s mission by fostering student and community engagement through initiatives such as the new College Ambassador Program. At this year’s Rhode Island Swim, Payton will volunteer on the beach before and after she dives in to swim a mile with the One Fin Tunas team captained by Dr. David Edmonson.

“Swim Across America’s annual grant literally supports everything I do, not just supplies and equipment,” noted Payton. “Those funds enabled me to join the lab in 2021 as a full-time graduate student starting a new project on triple-negative breast cancer and immunotherapy. I’m grateful for this experience and proud to be part of the next generation of cancer researchers supported by Swim Across America.”

Payton earned a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology at University of Arizona and a master’s degree in environmental health at Boston University. Besides her academic studies and cancer research work, she is an avid rower and coordinates science outreach programs for students in under-represented communities.

Since 2010, Swim Across America’s open water charity swim in Rhode Island has raised more than $2 million for cancer research at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island. These funds helped researchers in the Program in Women’s Oncology Center for Biomarkers & Emerging Technology discover a biomarker for ovarian cancer and introduce to clinical practice an algorithm that estimates with specificity the risk of ovarian cancer in women with a pelvic mass. This test is now used worldwide and is a game changer for women with ovarian cancer, which is notoriously difficult to diagnose at an early stage when it is most treatable. To learn more, see Women & Infants Hospital’s impact statement at https://bit.ly/saa-ri-wih23.


Charity Swim Event Details
Swim Across America’s 2023 Rhode Island swim kicks off Saturday, September 9, at 9:30 a.m., with a celebration ceremony followed by ¼-mile, ½-mile, and 1-mile swim waves totaling 650 swimmers. Attending Olympians include Block Cancer founder Elizabeth Beisel, Swim Across America - Rhode Island co-director Alex Meyer, Swim Across America COO Janel Jorgensen McArdle, Swim Across America vice president of partnerships and former world record holder Craig Beardsley, and this year’s event emcee Eric Wunderlich. Women & Infants Hospital reps will include president & COO Shannon Sullivan, Program in Women’s Oncology director Dr. Paul DiSilvestro, Swim Across America-funded principal investigators Kate Grive and Nicole James and others who will staff a cancer information booth.


Other event attractions include merch tents hosted by Swim Across America and onsite sponsors JOLYN Clothing and Gill Marine, disc jockey music courtesy of local fav The Face Show, temporary tattoos, beach games, Coca-Cola donated beverages, snacks compliments of Fulfill Nutrition, and boxed lunches from Gansett Wraps. Learn more, register, or donate at swimacrossamerica.org/rhodeisland.


Swim Across America was founded in 1987 with its first open water event in Long Island Sound. Since that time, the nonprofit organization has raised more than $100 million to fight cancer. In its 36 years of making waves to fight cancer, more than 100,000 swimmers and 150 Olympians have swum the circumference of the earth three times, uniting a movement to fight cancer that has created a groundswell of support spanning all generations. Today, more than 24 communities hold open water swims and hundreds of charity pool swims each year, from Nantucket to under the Golden Gate Bridge, which support innovative cancer research, detection and patient programs.


Swim Across America’s funding of clinical trials for patients helped contribute to four FDA approved life-saving immunotherapy cancer treatments: Yervoy, Opdivo, Tecentriq and Keytruda. In June of last year, a clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering was published in The New England Journal of Medicine that showed a 100 percent success rate in treating patients in a phase 2 clinical trial for advanced rectal cancer with dostarlimab, an immunotherapy treatment produced by GlaxoSmithKline. The clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering was funded by early-stage grant funding from Swim Across America. More than 60 scientific grants are funded each year and there are now ten dedicated Swim Across America Labs at major institutions including: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, John Hopkins Medicine Baltimore, Rush University Medical Center Chicago, Baylor Scott & White Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center in Dallas, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center New York, Infusion Center at Nantucket Cottage Hospital, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and San Francisco, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, The Swim Across America Pediatric Research Lab at Columbia University Medical Center New York, and The Swim Across America Laboratory at Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine.


About Swim Across America
Swim Across America Inc. (SAA) is dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment through swimming-related events. With the help of hundreds of volunteers nationwide and past and current Olympians, Swim Across America is helping find a cure for cancer through athleticism, community outreach and direct service. To learn more visit swimacrossamerica.org or follow on Facebook @SwimAcrossAmerica or on Instagram or Twitter @SAASwim.

Swim Across America, Rhode Island, Payton De La Cruz, September 9

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