By Kaila Burns-Heffner / photos courtesy of dabosallinteam.com.
For the Swinney family, the month of October means much more than just another month of football season. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and that is one disease Kathleen and Dabo Swinney unfortunately know all too well.
Kathleen’s oldest sister, Lisa Lamb, was diagnosed and defeated breast cancer in 2003, but the cancer returned in 2011, this time in her brain and lungs, and took her life this past April.
The loss was tragic to all of those whose lives have been touched by Lamb, but her battle potentially saved her younger sisters’ lives.
While Lamb was fighting her breast cancer, she was told she had a certain gene mutation that raises one’s chances for developing breast cancer. Since the gene is hereditary, Lamb urged her sisters, Ann and Kathleen, to get tested.
Kathleen tested positive for the gene that gave her 90-percent likelihood for developing breast cancer, so she decided to get a double mastectomy to reduce her chances to one percent.
Today, Kathleen advocates for breast cancer awareness and is fighting hard to help find a cure for such a devastating disease that has not only harmed her family, but many other families in the world as well.
“It’s really a real thing when you go through it with a family member. You feel their pain and you want to help, and its just really difficult,” Kathleen said.
In December of 2008, when Dabo Swinney became the head football coach at Clemson, he knew that he wanted to use his position to make a difference in not only his players’ lives, but also in the world.
That’s when the Swinneys co-founded the All In Foundation in order to give back to the community.
“We knew that God had given him this platform which is to coach the football team and run a football program which is a huge responsibility that he takes very seriously, and we know that first and foremost,” Kathleen said. “But we felt like we can make a difference in the people in this state and their lives through health and education.
“It was just something we started from scratch. We didn’t know where it would lead to, but we knew we wanted to make a difference in peoples’ lives.”
The All In foundation is something that is very exciting and special to the Swinney family as they contribute to various charities that help out the local community as well as helping fund global issues such as breast cancer research.
“Since I am a breast cancer gene carrier and have benefitted from breast cancer research, that is something that has been really near and dear to Dabo’s and my heart,” Kathleen said.
Dabo and his wife kicked off breast cancer awareness month by presenting the merchandise that would be sold to benefit breast cancer research in Dabo’s weekly Tuesday press conference on Sept. 30th. The bigger announcement, however, was that the Swinney family decided to donate $50,000 to Clemson’s Institute for Biological Interfaces of Engineering (IBIOE).
The Swinneys presented their check to the very grateful IBIOE Research Assistant Professor, Dr. Brian Booth.
The Institute is a cross-campus program that allows for various Clemson students and professors to aid in the research of clinically relevant issues. Currently, the Institute has a number of projects in progress that relate to breast cancer, but one project in particular sparked Kathleen’s interest.
The institute is currently researching a way to combine breast tissue regeneration with an anti-cancer treatment plan.
“What we’re doing is we’re taking tannic acid, which is a natural compound found in nuts, plants, red wine, and we’re incorporating into collagen beads, which are used for tissue regeneration,” Dr. Booth said. “The tannic acid has anti-cancer properties that kill cancer cells. The plan is that when we put the beads in with the cells following therapies and surgeries, as new cells grow on these beads that will release this anti-cancer tannic acid to kill any cancer cells that a surgeon might have missed or that the drugs didn’t catch.”
The research and trial process for this innovative treatment plan is extensive and requires expensive laboratory equipment to run the necessary experiments. Once the institute conducts these experiments and receives the results, they can move forward, but they needed help generating the funds.
Dr. Booth submitted a grant proposal to the board of the All In Foundation in hopes to gain funding for their project, but he did not expect the result would be so generous.
“It will be a couple years yet, but with the money, it is accelerating the process,” Dr. Booth said. “We’re very grateful and thankful that we’ve got this money to help us move this project along.”
Kathleen mentioned when she found out about the grant proposal, she was thrilled to hear members of the Clemson community were working on a project that could benefit such an important issue.
The institute gave her a tour of their facility and discussed the advancements that they were hoping to make with the money that they had asked for. The Swinney family then agreed this was something they would be honored to help fund.
“After I went to visit it, we just knew that was something we wanted to be a part of,” Kathleen said. “It’s just exciting all around.”
The Institute was very grateful not only for the generosity of the donation, but also for the opportunities they now have to continue their unique form of education to students from multiple majors and colleges.
The director of IBIOE, Dr. Guigen Zhang, expressed how important it is to him that graduate and undergraduate students get the opportunity to work on a project as important as this one. He stressed one of the most unique aspects of the Institute is it spans across colleges and gives students from different majors the opportunity to work on and get an education on cancer research.
“In our case, we have a lot of biomedical engineering students, but also we have students from electrical engineering, mechanical, and even biology, so that’s how we’re envisioning that trend with a much broader base of students to get them into research work that matters to peoples’ lives,” Dr. Zhang said.
The donation to IBIOE means the world to both the directors of the Institute as well as the Swinney family. With the prevalence of breast cancer in today’s world, one would be hard-pressed to find someone who is not affected by this devastating disease.
“It’s very important. One in eight women will be diagnosed at some point in their lifetime, and I’ve got a mother and a wife and two daughters, so it is kind of important to me,” Booth said. “This project is one of four breast cancer research projects we have going on in the Institute here.”
The Swinney’s are honored to support an institute that is not only helping to fight breast cancer, but is also within the Clemson community.
It has been said many times that Clemson University is a family. That rings true with the Swinney family and the members of IBIOE.
Kathleen believes the love and support she receives from her family along with the Clemson family makes all the difference in the world.
“When you come together as a family, you’re more united, you’re stronger, you care about one another and you carry each other’s burdens. All the things that just help us all in life to get through and make a difference,” she said. “We’re part of such an amazing family atmosphere, all around and it’s like anything that may happen, whether to a Clemson student, alumni or what have you, people want to come together and rally and support one another and support great causes.
“It’s really special and I just feel like Clemson is just so unique and special and there are wonderful people all over the world, but Clemson just has very special people who have big hearts and who really care about one another. I think that makes all the difference.”