03.24.22 – Go Tell The World About Me

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

Over the past 8 years, I have been asked various versions of the following question: “How has your family been able to stay so positive through Grace’s illness, treatments, and death?”

I always struggle with how to answer this question. I struggle because I don’t want to sound self-righteous. I struggle because I don’t want it to appear as if we don’t feel the pain and loss of Grace’s death. I struggle because I don’t want it to seem as though it is easy. I struggle because there are no words. No words that are true enough, right enough, strong enough, or grand enough to explain it. I find myself rambling and rummaging around for the right thing to say, but everything sounds too vague or too insincere or too pious.

In reality, however, the answer to the question is simple – and it is this: “Because Grace was a believer. Because we are believers.” I vividly recall providing that answer to a similar-type question posed to me in an interview with CNN’s Carol Costello back in November 2017. She didn’t seem to buy it. She kept probing as if there was a Part B to my response. There wasn’t, and there isn’t. 

Anyone who knew Grace knows that her faith was the foundation of her existence. She knew that her faith was more than an idea to be thought about, it was a life to be lived, a story to be told. As such, Grace’s faith and life story are inextricably linked – as is our entire family’s. That’s why it is impossible to tell one without speaking about the other.

And like all compelling stories, Grace’s life story is directive – it teaches us our lines and provides us with directives and instructions. Bearing witness to the unfolding of her life story demands that I change. I must be different, and more importantly, I must act. I must do something. I must change the plot line of my own life. Why? Because nothing kills a great story more quickly than a passive protagonist. In so doing, I do not give up who I am. Rather, I become more of who I was always meant to be.

This is exactly what prompted and inspired The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour 2021. And because of everyone’s support and generosity, The Amazing Grace Swim Across America 2021 raised over $180,000 for cancer research!! Portions of those fundraising monies have benefited research efforts at the local beneficiaries associated with the 14 cities that The Amazing Grace Tour visited last year.

Additionally and something that would bring a smile to Grace’s face, $50,000 has been specifically awarded to Dr. Nancy Gordon and Dr. Richard Gorlick at MD Anderson Cancer Center. This grant will fund a study examining the bioinformatics of sarcomas (including osteosarcoma) to determine new targets for intervention and treatment. As Grace boldly shared with all of us, the grand sum-total of advancements in the treatment of osteosarcoma over the past 40 years is exactly equal to zero. Therefore, it is beyond exciting to know that all of the miles that members of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour traveled, all of the strokes that we swam, all of the speeches that were given, all of the stories that were shared, and all of the dollars that were raised will help fund and support the development of better treatments for the disease that took Grace’s life.

Given that any story worth telling is worth telling twice, I have decided to continue The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour this year. Although there are far fewer stops along the way, there is just as much enthusiasm for and commitment to the mission of Swim Across America and the sharing of Grace’s story of hope and faith. I made a video that hopefully captures the spirit of this endeavor – you can watch it here: The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour 2022

Although there is a Team Amazing Grace participating in the inaugural Key West event on April 9th (how fun does that sound?!?), my first stop is Houston where I will be able to see Dr. Gorlick and meet Dr. Gordon along the shores of Lake Longhorn.

And if anyone asks me along that shoreline how we can smile and feel joyful in Grace’s absence, I will simply say, “Because we are believers.” As time moves on, I am more convinced that our best apologetic to the world is not a clever argument to prove our faith and beliefs. Rather, I think we can share our faith by how we respond when we take it on the chin. Our testimony given amid grief and sorrow might resonate more loudly because it comes at midnight. Anyone can sing when the sun is shining. But if you can still sing at midnight, the world might hear you differently.

That’s what Grace taught me. That’s the answer I will give. That’s the story I will tell.

If you think this is a story worth telling and want to support The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour, you can click here:

The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour

Go tell the world about me
I’ve gotta go now for a little while
But goodbye is not the end

(“The Commission” – Cain)

03.23.22 – Benchmarks

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

Four years ago today, I was essentially living in the hospital with Grace. I don’t recall exactly what happened that day. However, today I miss Grace.  On Friday, it will be exactly four years since Grace died. I will miss her then too.

You see, we miss Grace every single day. For our family, benchmarks are nothing more than that, just benchmarks. In fact, we probably spend more time wondering how we are supposed to feel than actually feeling anything on those benchmark days.

This past weekend, Caroline spoke with me about this year’s approaching benchmark. She said that people often ask her things like, “So, how was Christmas?” Caroline said she wants to reply, “Well, Christmas was fine. But, Thursday? Thursday really sucked.” Her point is that grief comes whenever it wants. It doesn’t come neatly packaged and prepared on certain days. I find that to be incredibly true. I almost would like to take it a step further and say, “Yeah, Christmas was fine. But Monday night at 5:30 while running on the treadmill and that song came on? That really sucked.”  Grief is that specific.

Brian and I are fortunate to have been given the opportunity to lead the elementary/middle school students at Embrace Church during this Lenten Season. Each week, the students have an opportunity to anonymously write down questions, and then we review them as a group the next week. This week’s question was, “Why doesn’t prayer always work?”

Such a profound question that I tried my best to answer. I shared with them that I wondered the same thing as a child. As a child, I prayed and still failed that math test. I prayed and still, our softball team lost the game. I also shared with them that I have wondered about this question as an adult. As an adult and specifically as a mother, my life worries increased, as did my disappointments in prayer.

I told them that when prayer doesn’t seem to “work” and God’s answer is “no,” we need to remember that His wisdom is far greater than our own. He sees what we do not see. He knows what we do not know. He has a heavenly view of all of life’s contingencies. I told them that I get it – at the moment, God’s “no” might seem cold and uncaring; yet in reality, it’s really an extension of His loving hand. We just have to be willing to trust Him.

With Easter approaching, I am reminded of another benchmark – the traditional airing of “The Ten Commandments” on the Saturday before Easter.  It made me think about how incredible it was that God parted the Red Sea. God chose to answer the Israelites’ prayers and save them from Pharaoh while escorting them into the Holy Land. Yet, He did not save Grace from cancer. I certainly had a clear understanding of that when I spoke at Grace’s funeral. And fortunately, God has further refined that for our family as we continue to seek Him through our grief and acceptance of unanswered prayers on benchmark days and all of the other days in between.

Four years ago this coming Friday, Grace died. Four years ago today, she didn’t. Either way, we miss her. And either way, we remain faithful and thankful for answered and unanswered prayers.

“The greatest tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.” (F.B. Meyer)

10.15.21 – Thank You

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

As far back as I can remember, I went to church on Sunday mornings. My childhood church held their Sunday School classes in between what we called “the early” and “the late” service. This meant that once we graduated from the nursery, my sister and I attended church service with our parents. Which might have been fine, however, they always made us sit in the first few pews. As a child, I thought it was to torture us. But looking back with my reflective parental eyes, I suppose they hoped it would force us to pay attention – and if not pay attention, at least behave.

My favorite part of the church service was always the Benediction. Not just because it signified the end of the church service, but being located so close to the minister, I always thought he was talking directly to me. My 5-year-old-self thought the Benediction was the minister’s way of saying to me, “Thanks for coming! God wants you to have a great week! See you next Sunday!” I always thought it was such a nice way of sending us on our way. It made me feel loved, protected and connected. Like a reminder, a command, and the promise of a blessing all wrapped into one.

I have spent time and interacted with so many incredibly special people as a result of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour – some of whom I already knew, but many others that I did not know before it all began. Regardless, each one of them will always be a part of my life moving forward in some way. As such, it just seems fitting that The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour would conclude with a Benediction or blessing of some sort.

Just as in the Sunday morning church services I attended as a child, we would do well to pay attention to the Benediction. No matter who we are, or what we are going through, we are called to receive the Benediction words as bold declarations about our lives. The Benediction speaks the truth over us. In that very moment as the words ring in our ears, spiritually we receive the enriching presence of God, and the assurance of His power working for us. Of that, we can be assured. As Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote, Pronounce a silent blessing and pay attention to what happens in the air between you and that other person.”

This video is my way of saying thank you for blessing my life. I am beyond grateful for each of you.

Amazing Grace Tour – Thank You!

10.07.21 – Let Me Tell You A Story

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

This past Saturday was the 14th stop of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour. It took place at Lake Lanier. Not the same venue, but the same lake in which Grace swam in back in September 2017. The perfect day is how I will always remember it. And this year was no different. Perfect in every way, except Grace was not there – at least not in body. Ask anyone who was present. Grace was definitely there in spirit.

In fact, Grace’s spirit was at every stop of the tour. She was in every city, in every body of water, and was a part of every story that I told along the way. I had the honor of speaking at all of the events. As such, my goal was to share Grace- and hope-filled stories which is why I refused to have a “stump speech.” Rather, I wanted to be in the moment and knew that Grace would always make sure I had the right words to say and stories to share that might have an impact or touch others in a meaningful way.

As human beings, we are story-shaped creatures. Because of that, over the years and whenever Grace and Caroline asked me any of life’s big questions – Is cheese a vegetable? Where does the sun go when it’s dark? Is Santa Claus real? – I told a story.

This didn’t change after Grace was diagnosed with cancer. In fact, following Grace’s diagnosis and subsequent relapses, Grace and Caroline’s questions only grew more complex and more difficult to answer: Why did Grace get cancer?  What if Grace’s cancer comes back? When I get to Heaven, how will I know where to go or what to do? How am I supposed to live without Grace?

As their questions matured, my stories and story-telling skills needed to become exceptional. And more importantly, my stories needed to be full of hope.

As their mother, I believed that the single best way Grace and Caroline could conceive and embrace a hope-filled existence amid a seemingly hopeless situation like Grace’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent death was through stories.

Stories engage all of what we are – mind, emotions, spirit, and body. But hope-filled stories do even more. Hope-filled stories call us to live in a certain way, not just to think in a certain way.

Hope-filled stories also share another quality – they have the power to change us. They are quite aggressive in that sense. They say, “You must be different because of what you have heard. Your life cannot be the same now that you know this story.”

Grace taught us that hope has no finish line. But that is just a proposition. A declaration. A statement. And by itself, it doesn’t have a lot of impact. It hangs suspended in the land of abstract assertion. To be meaningful to others, this idea that hope has no finish line must be given the body and blood of a story.

I hope that is what I have accomplished through The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour. I hope that I was able to share hope-filled stories along the way that has made a difference. I hope that the people I have met since May realize that fragments of Grace’s story have now been woven into theirs, and as a result, a bridge of hope has been built to a new way of understanding and living.

In order to truly embrace the idea that hope has no finish line, people do not need proof from a preacher or a tip from a psychologist like myself. They just need a piece of a story, something real and full of life and blood and breath and heartache, something way more than an idea, something that someone has lived through, a piece of wisdom earned the hard way.

My wish is that when others ask anyone who has heard any of my stories throughout this journey, “Oh really, hope has no finish line? How do we know that hope has no finish line?”

They will answer with, “It’s true. Let me tell you a story. A story about a girl named Grace.”

And here is another story…there is a 15th swim.

There always was. The 14 Swim Across America open water events of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour 2021 represented the 14 years of Grace’s life in her earthly home. The 15th swim will represent her life in her eternal home.

I have gathered a small bit of water from each event. We will take the combined water with us to Israel where we will place it in the Sea of Galilee at the same location in which Caroline poured out Grace’s ashes back in November 2018.

We are not sure when we will be able to travel to Israel. But until then, we will do our best to honor Grace’s life by living ours knowing that there is no finish line in Hope. I will continue to share Grace- and hope-filled stories here as I am led until the 15th swim. The last entry in Caring Bridge will be the story of our return to Israel – that seems to be the most fitting way to finish. I will finish where it all began.

Thank you so much for all of your love, support, prayers, and generosity!

Here is a video from Saturday: The Amazing Grace SAA Tour – Atlanta

And now I’m singing along to Amazing Grace
Can’t nobody wipe this smile off my face
Got joy in my heart, angels on my side
Thank God almighty, I saw the light
Gonna look ahead, no turning back
Live every day, give it all that I have
Trust in someone bigger than me
Ever since the day that I believed

(Something In The Water, Carrie Underwood)

09.27.21 – She’s Not Built Like The Rest Of Us

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

Earlier last week as I was preparing to leave for stop #13 of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour, I recalled something Melissa (Grace’s nurse practitioner) said to me in Grace’s hospital room in late March 2018. She said, “She’s not built like the rest of us.”

I knew at the time that Melissa was referring to our current problem, the unusual physical strength of Grace’s heart and lungs, which was making her end-of-life care more than challenging for us. I knew at the time that Melissa was referring to the fact that Grace was single-handedly draining the hospital of its Fentanyl and Dilaudid inventory, yet remained alert enough to tell Caroline that she loved her. I knew at the time that Melissa was referring to the fact that despite being administered an unprecedented amount of narcotics and having an epidural in place to cut off sensation to her lower limbs, Grace still managed to get out of bed on her own while we were all out in the hallway discussing her care because we thought she was asleep.

Melissa’s comment stayed on my mind all last week. I thought about it as I packed for my trip. I thought about it as I traveled from Atlanta to Dallas. And I thought about it Saturday morning as I entered the water to swim.

“She’s not built like the rest of us.”

Swimming away from the dock, I thought of Melissa’s words and about Grace, which is nothing new. However, I was also thinking of someone else that I have had the honor of getting to know this year. And that person is Elizabeth Beisel. As we jumped into the water at Lake Ray Hubbard in Dallas, Elizabeth Beisel – a 3-time Olympian – was already several hours into her 10.4 mile swim from mainland Rhode Island to Block Island. Elizabeth was swimming in memory of her father who recently passed away from pancreatic cancer, and the money raised from her epic swim is benefitting Swim Across America. “Clearly, I thought as I swam, “the same came be said about Elizabeth.”

“She’s not built like the rest of us.”

As I made my way toward the first turn buoy with Melissa’s words echoing in my ears and Grace and Elizabeth on my mind, I began contemplating the human qualities that inspire someone to say this about another, “She’s not built like the rest of us.” And then I made the first turn and to my right, I saw something on the shore that I hadn’t paid much attention to before. I saw a lighthouse. And that’s when it hit me.

Some people like Grace and Elizabeth are like lighthouses, resilient in nature and constructed to withstand powerful storms. Some people have a constancy about them, able to radiate light regardless of whether things are calm or turbulent. Some people understand that when they are lost at sea and losing hope, it is the Lighthouse in their life that brings them home. But equally important, when they see another in need of hope and support, they are able to shine a light to help guide others back home as well. I think this selfless act of human reciprocation is the very core of human kindness and perhaps what makes some people different on the inside. I believe it is what causes some people to appear as though they are built differently than the rest. Because guess what? They are.

After I finished my swim on Saturday, I walked by the lighthouse which I swam past for a mile that morning. As a volunteer handed me a towel, I looked up at it and promised myself that I would do my best to live my remaining life just like Grace and Elizabeth. I will try to live my life in a manner in which I can serve as a lighthouse of hope to others. I will try to live my life so that when my time comes, someone might be able to say the same thing about me, “She wasn’t built like the rest of us.”

Here is a video of our trip to Dallas: Amazing Grace Tour – Dallas

“I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve.”  (George Bernard Shaw)

Amazing Grace Tour Update:

It is hard to believe that I just completed the 13th stop on The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour – a journey that began 4 months ago on Mother’s Day in Tampa, Florida. The 14th swim will take place this coming Saturday here in Atlanta at Lake Lanier. Please join us if you are able! Although Lake Lanier is the largest lake in Georgia, we will be easy to find. Just follow the light.

Here is a link to information about the Swim Across America – Atlanta event: Swim Across America – Atlanta

09.16.21 – Plan B

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

Last weekend, I was scheduled to travel to Seattle for swim #11 of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour on Saturday, September 11th. Swim #12 was scheduled in Baltimore for this coming Sunday – September 19th. That was Plan A.

However, late last week I learned that the open water event in Baltimore was cancelled. But with Swim Across America CEO Rob Butcher’s help, we came up with a Plan B. The Swim Across America – Baltimore team had a pool swim scheduled for this past Sunday, September 12th. I just needed to find a way to get from Seattle to Baltimore after my Saturday swim, and then from Baltimore back to Atlanta after my Sunday morning swim in time for Caroline’s Sunday evening soccer game. And I did!

This past weekend reminded me that life does not always go as planned. Not just because my swim and travel plans changed, but because I spent the entire weekend with people who have had to embrace the Plan Bs in their lives. On Saturday, I met the Benoit family. A family whose story was featured in the sixth episode of WaveMakers, the docu-series about Swim Across America that was produced earlier this year. The Benoit family lost their wife and mother, Kalany, to cancer in 2013. Three years later, their son and brother Matt, died from cancer. They swim each year at the Swim Across America-Seattle event to raise money for cancer research in honor of both Kalany and Matt.

On Sunday morning, I swam alongside Paralympic swimmer and friend to Grace, McClain Hermes. Although McClain lost her eyesight at the age of 8-years-old, she has a strong vision for her future and lives a productive and fulfilled life.

And then on Sunday evening, I stood along the sidelines and watched Caroline play in her soccer game. At the age of 9, Caroline learned firsthand that life doesn’t always go as planned. Caroline has intimate knowledge of the pain that accompanies a Plan B.

As I reflected on my weekend, I realized that it happens to everyone sooner or later. None of us are immune or protected. Our Plan A comes to a shrieking halt, and we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a Plan B. Plan Bs can look different. Sometimes they come in the form of an unwelcomed diagnosis, the sudden loss of a family member or close friend, or some other type of tragedy. Maybe it comes in the shape of a disillusioned church experience, a financial misfortune, or divorce papers on your kitchen counter.

So, what do you do with a shattered life? A prayer answered in a manner you don’t like? How do you find hope in the midst of a Plan B?

Standing on the sidelines watching this past Sunday evening’s soccer game, I realized that to find answers to those questions, I need not look any further than to my youngest daughter. In that regard, Caroline has been my greatest teacher. By watching her over the past 3 years, I have been a witness to the fact that it’s not easy and requires conscious and often constant effort, but Plan Bs have good sides if you are willing to look for them. From my parental perspective, they certainly grant us opportunities to stretch ourselves and draw closer to God if we so choose. I have learned that those who have suffered through a Plan B in life are uniquely empowered to be missionaries of hope to others. I am so grateful to Caroline and other Plan B professionals like her who have taught me that it is possible to choose faith over doubt, light over darkness, and hope over despair.

I have only 2 swims left. Swim #13 is in Dallas on September 25th, and the final swim takes place in Atlanta on October 2nd. Thank you again for all of your love and support as I live out this part of our Plan B one swim at a time.

Here is a video of this past weekend: Amazing Grace Tour – Seattle and Baltimore

It’s funny, that life I designed
Never played out like I had in mind
Had some highs hit the ground
Some ups that went down
But one thing that I’ve figured out

Joy comes
Tears fall
I’m learning there is beauty in it all
It’s not hard to find it
You just have to look
Oh, God is good

(“God is Good” – Francesca Battistelli)

09.01.21 – Are You Tired?

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

Last weekend included my second and final “double header” of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour where I completed swim #10 and #11 of the 14 open water charity events that comprise the tour. On Saturday, Team Amazing Grace was in St. Louis where we swam a mile in Alpine Like at the Innsbrook Resort. That afternoon, I traveled to Denver where I swam a mile at Chatfield Reservoir on Sunday.

While at the airport Sunday evening waiting to board a plane back to Atlanta, I ran into a friend and former colleague, Chris Jones. After greeting me with a big hug, Chris asked me, “Are you tired?” I replied, “No, but I should be.”

Since May when I embarked on The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour, I have been asked that question quite a bit, “Are you tired?” My answer is always the same, “No, but I should be.” So why am I not tired? Why was I able to travel from Atlanta to St. Louis to Denver and back to Atlanta in 48 hours with a few open water mile swims in between and not feel tired? Why was I able to get 4 hours of sleep on Saturday night (really more like Sunday morning), swim a mile in an altitude that is 4000 ft higher than what I am used to, and not feel tired? Why was I able to arrive home at midnight on Sunday night, get up and go to work the next morning and not feel tired?

The answer I believe lies within the landscape that surrounded the Sunday morning swim in Denver. Given that I breathe only on the right side, my view while swimming along the shore was of the mountains. With each breath in between my swim strokes, I realized that it is impossible to look at the highest point of a mountain without also seeing the sky beyond. In other words, my eyes were lifted not just to the mountains, but to the heavens above. This early morning swimming viewpoint made me think of Psalm 121, specifically verse 1-2:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Although the author of Psalm 121 is unknown, when I think of the book of Psalms, I always think of David. During our visit to Israel in November 2018, and en route from Capernaum to the Dead Sea, we drove through the Judean mountains and by the site where David hid from King Saul. For over 10 years, David hid in the Judean mountains from a maniacal king who was intent on killing him. When David lifted his eyes up to the Judean mountains, he didn’t just see a beautiful view. No, he saw his life flash before his eyes. When David looked at those mountains, he saw despair and grief and darkness. Fortunately, however, when he looked at those mountains, he also saw something more. He saw protection. He saw deliverance. He saw safety in the cleft of the Rock. In those mountains, David knew the presence of God. That’s where he drew his strength and courage and fortitude.

That’s what I was thinking about as I swam by the foothills of the Rocky mountains on Sunday morning. I was thinking of Grace and David and Psalm 121. And when I emerged from the water, I looked up to the mountains and remembered where my strength comes from – and that is how I can keep swimming without growing  weary. That is why I am not tired.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me, prayed for me, swam with me, and raised money with me along this journey. I have completed 10 of the open water charity events, and I have 4 more to go. A cancer diagnosis certainly causes individuals to look to the mountains and beyond for hope. Our collective team has just reached over $100,000 in money raised to help fund cancer research. My hope is that because of our combined efforts, there will come a day when cancer patients will say, “See those mountains right there? Those, right there. They were the place of my greatest despair and darkness.” But because of research funded by Swim Across America, they will add, “But I conquered them.“

Here is a video of this past weekend: Amazing Grace Tour – St. Louis and Denver

PS – Many people have asked me where they can get a Team Amazing Grace t-shirt. If you would like one, you can order one here: Team Amazing Grace T-shirt

When confusion’s my companion
And despair holds me for ransom
I will feel no fear
I know that You are near

(“Shoulders” – for KING & COUNTRY)

08.23.21 – The Day That I Met Grace

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

This past Saturday, I traveled to Chicago with my friend Leah for Stop #8 of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour. We were joined at Ohio Street Beach by other Team Amazing Grace members and supporters. Among those on our team was Kelly Hazenfield, a friend of mine from high school. We stood together at the start of the mile swim, and right before we walked to the water, Kelly leaned over and said to me, “I wish I knew Grace.”

As I swam along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, I thought of Kelley’s comment and was reminded of something Caroline said to another Kelly (Kelly Brumbeloe) and Brian and I as we were planning Grace’s funeral. Caroline said, “Sometimes I get confused whether we are talking about God’s grace or our Grace.”

On Saturday, I was fully aware that Kelly was referring to our Grace, but it made me wonder how many people wish that they knew the other grace, God’s grace. And I thought how easy it is for us to miss God’s grace in our lives. Sometimes it’s just so simple, that we miss it. We miss knowing grace.

We can miss knowing God’s grace in the ordinary occurrences in our lives, such as the nearby parking spot in the rain or the last shopping cart available. Even a string of green traffic lights when you are in a hurry can be a Heavenly gift. If we aren’t careful, we can miss these small ways that God showers grace upon us.

We can miss knowing God’s grace when things go right. The biopsy comes back negative. You get the job. A relationship is restored. Do you see those gifts as God’s grace? Do you think those good outcomes have to be earned? They don’t. It’s sheer grace. God’s grace.

And sadly, we can miss knowing God’s grace when things go wrong. Last week, I participated in an interview and was asked a familiar question. It is always asked in different ways, but the central theme of the question is this: “How can you remain joyful and hopeful even though Grace died?”

The answer is always the same. The reason is because I knew Grace and I know grace. For those reading this, you may be like my friend Kelly and might not have known our Grace, but you can certainly know His. His grace is what keeps our family afloat and moving forward. His grace is what allows me to truly embrace and believe what our Grace taught us when she said, “Hope has no finish line.”

Here is a short video of swim #8 in Chicago and a glimpse into the moments where our family met Grace…both our Grace and His: The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour-Chicago

Take it in, don’t forget
Today is the day your new life begins
Remember how you feel right now
Oh, that fire in your bones will never let you down
Oh and come back to the moment whenever your heart aches
Thank the Lord and say
“Here’s to the day, the day that I met grace”


08.17.21 – We Are The Storm

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

This past Friday as I was driving to Kiawah Island to participate in Stop #7 of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour, I received a phone call from my good friend Michelle. She was calling to wish me good luck. We talked for a good while and then before we hung up, she jokingly asked if I could put in a good word for her. They were soon going to be traveling to Michigan in order to move their youngest daughter back into college, and she wanted to be sure that Tropical Storm Grace didn’t cause them any trouble. I assured her that I would try, but Grace always had a mind of her own.

By Sunday morning, I had almost forgotten about Michelle’s request. That is until I disembarked from the shuttle ride to the start of our 1.5 mile swim and walked onto the beach. The weather was beautiful, the sand was soft, but the waves were menacing. At least they were to me. Never swimming 1.5 miles in the Atlantic Ocean before, I found myself a tad bit terrified as I thought to myself, “There is no way I am going to be able to do this.” Truthfully, I thought something a little stronger than that, but you get the point.

As I walked to the start, I was certain that the event organizers were going to cancel the event or at least drive us closer to the finish line. Or at least that’s what I was hoping they would do. Why? Because I was thinking, “There is no way I am going to be able to do this.” At one point I turned to Dr. Wasilewski and said, “Well, here we are again. Standing together in front of another metaphor for life. Crashing waves. Rough seas. Uncertain currents.”

Standing on the beach staring at the waves while contemplating life metaphors and feeling uneasy, I thought of Grace. Which is nothing new, but this time, I thought of Grace and the Sea of Galilee. But not the calm Sea of Galilee that we visited as a family in November 2018; rather, I thought of the Sea of Galilee as told in Matthew 8:23-27 and depicted in Rembrandt’s painting, ‘The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.’

In this painting, Rembrandt not only depicts the scene in which Peter’s boat is being battered about by the wind and the waves, he also illustrates different responses that the disciples are having to the storm. In the back of the boat, there is a small group who are gathered at Jesus’ feet with their eyes focused on Him. There is a sense of calmness surrounding this group. In contrast, a second group of disciples are hidden in the shadows where fear seems to possess them. There is a third group of disciples who are fighting the storm and desperately trying to keep the boat from being overtaken by the crashing waves. Rembrandt also depicts a light coming through the clouds indicating that the storm is about to break. The irony is that those in the darkness and those fighting against the storm don’t even see the light. Some of them even have their backs turned to the light.

As I stood on that Kiawah Island beach staring at those waves, I realized that this often happens in the storms that arise in our lives. When we fight the storms on our own, we are oblivious to the light. We see only darkness. We don’t see the hope, only the despair. So, I decided that I would choose to be like the disciples in the first group – the ones looking to the Light for peace. I decided not to fight against the waves that I was about to encounter or dwell in the darkness and allow my fear to overtake me. No. I would focus on the Light and embrace the waves, embrace the moment, and know that I would make it to the end one stroke at a time.

And I did! We all did!

At the finish line we were all greeted with high fives and hugs from family and friends as we emerged from the ocean. As I looked out at the waves with the 1.5 miles behind me and my loved ones in front of and beside me, I realized that our team along with all of the other Swim Across America teams across the country are a grace-filled force with whom to be reckoned. As I walked away from the beach, I recalled a familiar quote, but modified it a bit in my mind. I smiled as I thought to myself:

“Cancer whispered to them, you cannot withstand the storm; they whispered back, we are the storm.”

We head to Chicago this weekend for Stop #8! We welcome you to join us in being the storm against cancer by clicking here: The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour

Here is a video from our Kiawah Island swim last Sunday: Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour – Kiawah Island.

08.14.21 – The Dinosaurs Are Laughing

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

Borrowing a term from baseball, last weekend, The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour  embarked on a Swim Across America “double header.” In other words, we participated in an open water Swim Across America event on Saturday morning and again on Sunday morning.

On Saturday morning, we were in Glen Cove, NY at the Swim Across America – Sound to Cove event and then on Sunday, we were in Greenwich, CT at the Swim Across America – Fairfield County event. As usual, I met so many incredible people, two of which I will tell you more about.

Throughout the weekend, I was reminded of something I have said to Dr. Wasilewski on several occasions. Following Grace’s first relapse and at one of her admissions during her clinical trial treatment, I said to Dr. Wasilewski, “The dinosaurs must be laughing at us.” Later in February or March of 2018 (I can’t remember) as we were doing our very best to care for Grace at the end of her life, I said to Dr. Wasilewski, “Those dinosaurs are really laughing at us now.”

Why would I say such a crazy thing?

I said it because osteosarcoma, the disease that took Grace’s life, is the oldest known form of cancer. Osteosarcoma has been found in the bones of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs.

Which might explain why Grace told everyone at The Rally Foundation Benefit Bash in November 2017 that she was going to die of a disease whose treatment had not changed in 30 years.

30 years.

Which might also explain how I met two incredible women on this “double header” Swim Across America weekend. In Glen Cove, I met Ellen Leondis. Her daughter Stacey was diagnosed with osteosarcoma when she was 16 years old and passed away at the young age of 23. During those seven years, she started the FOSTER Foundation (Fighting Osteo Sarcoma Through Everyday Research), graduated high school, graduated Yale University and was accepted to Mount Sinai medical school.

In Fairfield County, I met Cristy Fraser. In 2017, her son Julian Fraser died after he fought a tough 11-month battle with osteosarcoma. Julian was an All-American swimmer and water polo player at Greenwich High School and a standout player on the Santa Clara University Water Polo Team when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age 19.  He was loved by all. Julian was only 20 years old when he died.

At the Fairfield County Swim Across America event, I reminded everyone of something that bothered Grace. When Grace learned that she was going to die from her osteosarcoma disease, she was shocked to learn something else important. She was stunned that the grand sum total of the progress researchers and clinicians have made in treating osteosarcoma over the past 30 years is exactly equal to zero.


That sounds pretty bleak and hopeless, doesn’t it? But as Grace taught all of us, it is when life is darkest and bleakest that we need hope the most. And, our family and the families of Stacey and Julian have found that by joining the Swim Across America community, it has been possible to create hope based in reality while simultaneously imagining a better future. A future in which young people like Grace and Stacey and Julian survive osteosarcoma and thrive. A future in which beautiful young people like the three of them are alive and well.

So, how do we stop the dinosaurs from laughing?

We stop the dinosaurs from laughing by choosing to make a difference.

We stop the dinosaurs from laughing by not giving up.

We stop the dinosaurs from laughing by choosing to make waves to fight cancer.

We stop the dinosaurs from laughing by choosing to have hope.

Don’t let us get to 40 years. Don’t let the dinosaurs have the last laugh.

Here is a glimpse into last week’s double header: The Amazing Grace Tour – Glen Cove, Greenwich, Boston

I’m gonna live
Like tomorrow never comes
There’s no end in sight
Tonight we black out the sun
Better hold on tight
Before you know it’s gone
And live like tomorrow never comes

(Zac Brown Band)