OAKLAND — As a three-time breast cancer survivor, Suzanne Schmutz knows how devastating it is to hear the word cancer. She also knows how important it is to have support after getting a cancer diagnosis.

In an effort to provide that support, especially to women facing barriers to care, Oakland's Women's Cancer Resource Center is holding the 18th annual Swim A Mile for Women with Cancer fundraiser at Mills College on Oct. 5-6.

"They do so much to help women get through their diagnoses," Schmutz said of the center.

This year, more than 600 men, women, and children will swim so women can take advantage of the free services offered by the center, and spots for about 40 additional swimmers were open as of Sept. 25.

Women’s Cancer Resource Center board member Thomasina Woida, shown as center with microphone, served as the mistress of ceremonies at the
Women's Cancer Resource Center board member Thomasina Woida, shown as center with microphone, served as the mistress of ceremonies at the center's 2012 Swim A Mile for Women with Cancer fundraiser at Mills College. Last year, more than 600 men, women and children swam to raise money for the center, which offers free services to women in need.

"We would love to fill the pool," said Christine Sinnott, who is leading the center's logistical work for the swim. On average, participants raise about $600 each by requesting donations mainly from family and friends.

Swimming for the sixth year, Schmutz will raise more than $5,000 this year and is the top individual fundraiser. She is swimming in honor of Deanna Del Rosario, a friend who is currently surviving cancer. The two women attended Vallejo High School together. Schmutz said many people have given in Rosario's honor and many people are swimming in honor of someone else.

"It is a wonderful weekend of compassionate energy," said Peggy McGuire, executive director of the center. McGuire said she starts training in February. Some people learn to swim just to participate. But it's not necessary even to swim. Some people walk or dog paddle, Sinnott said.

Through its information and referral help lines in Spanish and English, the WCRC provides women with information and referrals to community resources, McGuire said. Help lines are staffed daily by volunteers who respond to questions about community resources, such as how to obtain free or low-cost services.

Among the center's many services is in-home practical support for low-income women, such as light housekeeping, errands and companionship. The center also provides a psychotherapy program for low-income women. And it provides grants up to $600 annually to help women with rent, food and transportation.

"They provide an incredible amount of support," said Dr. Janet Perlman, a pediatrician and swimmer in the event for the 17th year.

Perlman said the cancer center is great for finding a second opinion, looking at other ways of care, and generally being supportive.

Only 12 percent of the money donated goes to pay for the swim. So, 88 percent of every dollar goes to pay for client services.

Mills College donates the space; other sponsors include Sports Basement, United Airlines, Kaiser Permanente, and Genetech. VegiWorks, Inc. donates about half of the produce and volunteers put the food together for about 1,000 people.

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For more information, go to www.wcrc.org/swim.