Mom whose daughter died of cancer swims to carry on her mission

Marietta, Georgia — For a parent, nothing could be more painful than losing a child. But a mother in Georgia is finding comfort in carrying out her daughter’s last wish: to help others. 

When Vicki Bunke is getting ready for an open water swim, it doesn’t come naturally. Bunke, until recently, had never swam a full lap. 

“I’m a little bit claustrophobic —  maybe a lot claustrophobic — so I don’t like to put my face in the water,” she said. 

Her daughter, Grace, was the family athlete. But a diagnosis at age 11 of osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, meant her leg had to be amputated. Grace could still swim and joined Swim Across America, a nonprofit that raises money for cancer research until her condition worsened. 

Her family never imagined her diagnosis would be terminal. “We knew it was treatable and we just thought she would be one that would make it,” Bunke said. 

Vicki Bunke and Grace
Vicki Bunke and her daughter Grace.  Handout

When it was clear to the family she had little time left, Grace asked her mom to swim in her place. 

“It was touching, but at the same time, it was a bit terrifying,” Bunke said. 

She took lessons and just finished her eighth open water swim on her way to 14 — Grace’s age when she died. She’s raised thousands for cancer research that might save others. 

“When I’m in the water I do have a sense of peace. I think of Grace and I feel her presence,” Bunke said.