In July 2021, Old Westbury resident Carolyn Jaenisch Chestler received the news: She had terminal adenocarcinoma, a type of non-small cell lung cancer.
Chestler, 62, was as active as they came up to that point. She completed a double relay swim across the English Channel, ran the New York City Marathon and ascended Machu Picchu at 60. She also loved to swim in the open waters of Long Island Sound.
Her family immediately began searching for a charity event. They discovered the organization Swim Across America and its open water swim event at Glen Cove’s Prybil Beach. The goal was to have her family swim in her honor while she looked on.
Established in 1987, the national nonprofit Swim Across America organizes open water swims across the nation. The group has raised $100 million to support vital cancer research.
But they never got the chance. Only four months after her diagnosis, Chestler died in November 2021. Yet her family refused to give up and forged ahead.
Now they’ve raised over $200,000 in Carolyn’s memory.
“It’s surreal. I can’t even explain it. People are just so amazingly nice and generous and supportive and kind,” said Steve Chestler, Carolyn’s husband. “We have friends that aren’t around (but) they’re doing swims in different states on the day, so that they feel like they’re united with us.”
Following her death, Carolyn left behind her husband, Steve, 65, son Gregory, 24 and daughter Caitlin, 19. Together, alongside more than 50 friends and supporters, they swam together at Pryibil Beach for Team Carolyn Sunday.
“Everybody is affected by cancer somehow,” said Steve. “So I called Rob Butcher, who’s [Swim Across America’s] CEO, and I explained what was going on and I sent him an email. He said, ‘This is perfect for you.’”
The group’s financing has aided the development of four FDA-approved immunotherapy medications. Every year the nonprofit funds over 60 research grants. Since its start in 2001, the annual Sound to Cove swim on Long Island has raised more than $10.5 million.
Steve said his family’s effort to help cancer patients has been remarkable. And to better comprehend the illness, the family still speaks with medical professionals and researchers.
“They’re very close to finding certain [medical advances in treating] lung cancer and they’re getting grants from the government that are incredible,” he said. “It’s really to help everybody, so that nobody has to go through what we went through.”
There were four different swim length options at the Glen Cove event: a half mile, a mile, five kilometers, and 10 kilometers.
The Feinstein Institute of North Shore, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital received donations from the event’s proceeds.
The hardest part for Steve as a father has been seeing his kids cope with the loss. But he praised them both for their resilience in handling their mother’s death.
“My daughter was really a caregiver with my wife. My son came home from Australia. He was having a great time working and getting his life set up,” he said. “So the kids have had a much, much tougher time than I have so far. As their father, I’m trying to make sure they’re OK.”
Steve said the love and support in Carolyn’s honor would have touched her. They will work to ensure that Carolyn’s legacy is one that the family bears for the rest of their lives.
“We’re a very strong family and this hit us very, very hard. To watch her go through what she went through was incredibly tough,” he said. “And that’s why we’re pushing for this. I’m not going to ever give up on this. I’m in it for life now.”
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