When Ariana Berg learned that the Georgia Tech swimming team raises money for the American Cancer Society through Relay for Life, Berg was eager to participate not only because it’s a popular and worthy charity.
Berg, a freshman breaststroke specialist, is a beneficiary of the society’s cancer research funding. Berg, diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma as a high school freshman in the spring of 2008, said she overcame the disease with the aid of a drug developed through funds from ACS.
“I’m really passionate about Relay for Life,” said Berg, from Peachtree City and McIntosh High.
She’ll swim Friday evening for the Yellow Jackets against North Carolina at 5 p.m. at Tech’s aquatic center. The meet is Tech’s Swim for the Cure, in which fans can make donations to Relay for Life and receive pink t-shirts.
As an eighth-grader, Berg noticed a bump on the right side of her face in eighth grade, but left it alone. In April of her ninth-grade year, she had it removed and was initially told it was cancerous, but not more than that.
“The whole week, you don’t know if you’re going to die,” she said. “You don’t know if you have a year left or two years. I was kind of freaking out.”
She learned it was the early stages of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the seventh most common form of cancer in the U.S., according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. She underwent three months of chemotherapy and lost her hair but, she said, was considered cured after the treatment.
“As far as cancer treatments go, I was kind of one of the lucky ones,” said Berg, who has since cleared all of her yearly screenings.
She pushed herself harder in her workouts with Southern Crescent Aquatic Team and set her sights higher, including a goal to make the U.S. senior national championship meet. Through Camp Sunshine, a camp in North Georgia for children with cancer, she made friends with teens facing much longer odds than her. She lost a close friend that she’d met at the camp to cancer last October.
“Cancer just taught me how to work hard and that things aren’t as bad as you think they are,” said Berg.
Six months after her treatment ended, she was swimming personal bests. More recently, Berg earned a qualifying time in the 100-yard breaststroke to the U.S. short-course championships, to be held at Tech in December. And she drew the attention of Tech, which she picked over Dartmouth, Yale, Rice and Ohio University.
Among her next goals is a qualifying time for the NCAA championships. In the 100 breaststroke, that would require about a three-second drop off her best time, to 59.65 seconds.
She also intends to study chemical and biomolecular engineering and wants to become a cancer researcher.
“Before (the diagnosis), I was just kind of swimming and I was good at it, but after that, I learned, I guess, about working hard and having goals,” she said. “It definitely changed my perspective on swimming, on school, on friendship. I guess it completely changed everything.”