Mic McConnell to swim across Chesapeake Bay to raise money for cancer research


We were grateful to have Mic sit with us and share his story. Below is a transcript of this inspiring interview.

A&A: Mic, thanks so much for meeting with us. What exactly is the condition you were diagnosed with?

Mic: I have melanoma, which is skin cancer. I was diagnosed with stage 4 in late February of 2023. It metastasized all over my body, my legs, and my brain. I’ve had radiation to my brain and my legs.  I continue to receive intravenous immunotherapy with a drug called Opdivo. After several months of apparent remission, I recently learned that my cancer has reappeared in my abdomen.  I expect to be hospitalized soon for surgery.

A&A: What symptoms did you experience that made you want to see the doctor?

Mic: I was originally diagnosed in 2019. I had a suspicious-looking lesion on my right shoulder. The shave biopsy showed cancer. I had surgery at the Massey Center to excise the tumor and to check my lymph nodes to see if it had spread. At the time, there did not appear to be any evidence that my disease had spread.

Then in early 2023, I started having shortness of breath. I had a CAT scan, and a bronchoscopy, which revealed that my cancer had spread. I was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma.

A&A: When were you diagnosed with this stage 4 melanoma?

Mic: In late February of 2023. I had brain surgery on March 1st at St. Mary’s. It was not scary. I rejected the idea of being brave. Being brave is when you must find courage about something you are fearful of. It never frightened me; I was confident I was going to be ok.

A&A: How were your children and wife coping at this time?

Mic: My children were brave and continue to be brave. My wife was and is still a hero. She dropped everything to take care of me. I had a mini stroke and a seizure and was unable to drive for most of the year.  She drove me everywhere, attended every medical visit with me, took detailed notes and always made sure that I had the prescribed medications that I needed every day. I sat on the sofa for a couple of months, being pushed to drink Ensure to get calories in me. I lost 45 pounds.

A&A: Would you share with us what exactly went through your head when the doctor communicated that you had stage 4 melanoma?

Mic: I did not understand what the doctor said at first, so he repeated it. My reaction to it then is the same as it is now, which was “Ok, what are we going to do about it?” My wife was also very  calm, steady and stoic. Neither of us reacted emotionally. We were clear-headed about it.

A&A: Share with us what the next few months looked like after you were diagnosed.

Mic: After the brain surgery, reading was very difficult. I couldn’t even watch Jeopardy! because I couldn’t process the clue in time. So instead of reading, I watched a lot of television and slept a lot. In the spring and early summer of 2023, I was very sick. I couldn’t eat. My doctor and my wife were pushing to me drink Ensure just to get calories in me. I weighed 195 lbs. when I was diagnosed. My weight went to 150. I have regained almost 20 lbs. now.

Once I got my ability to read back, I began reading voraciously. I have been consuming books, reading histories, and biographies. It has been a blessing.

A&A: Was there a time that you thought “This is it, I have given it my best?”

Mic: I have never been anywhere near that. First, I have no time for that. Second, my ongoing issues notwithstanding, I am very fortunate. My disease has been managed well and it has responded to treatment.

A&A: What are the elements in your life that got you through this time?

Mic: I have had a dedicated fitness lifestyle since I was 18. I swam in open water, participated in triathlons, did body building; fitness was a habit. As soon as I was able to move, I started moving. I made myself move, I pushed myself, because I knew I needed to be stronger.

Of course, I always did as my doctors recommended. Through my work, I am familiar with reading medical records and understanding medical terminology and science. My doctors have been very helpful in answering my questions and helping me to manage my disease.

I have received support from others as well. The Allen Law Firm has been great, as have my family and many good friends. Of course, I am fortunate to have great health insurance which has literally saved my life.

Some of the best support I have gotten has been from my professional adversaries: medical malpractice defense attorneys. Many of them have kept up with me, checked in, visited, and hosted me at their homes.

A&A: Let’s talk about your passions. You said you were never an athlete growing up, however certain things were of interest to you. Can you share more about those?

Mic: I love the discipline and the proof that hard work yields results. You make up your mind about something you are going to do, then you work to get there. I grew up soft and not athletic. Over the years I have dedicated myself to getting stronger and improving my performance. I like that control and power, and when I get results, it is very satisfying. As it turns out, a lifetime of fitness became a habit, which provided the foundation for my cancer recovery.

A&A: Tell us about your history with swimming.

Mic: I was 18 years old when I started swimming. I would watch lifeguards swimming on their breaks. I was amazed and awed by their ability to swim at length without stopping or getting tired. I wanted to do that.

So I started swimming, but it was not pretty. I could eventually swim a mile. This started to teach me that if I did the work, I would get results. That lesson is empowering. I continued to swim and get stronger and, in 1989 a friend invited me to swim across the Chesapeake Bay, so I did it.

There is something about being out in open water and being part of the environment. Open water is a hostile environment. Humans are not naturally aquatic. So swimming distances in open water takes confidence, discipline, and rigorous training. For me, the challenge is more mental than physical. It is so different from pool swimming.  In open water, you have no black line to follow. You cannot always tell the direction you are swimming. You can get stuck in a current. These and other experiences challenge me mentally and physically. But overcoming them is its own reward.

I have done the Bay swim six or seven times, but of course, never as a stage 4 cancer patient. To train, I have done long pool swims. I regularly did 4.4-mile pool swims at the Tuckahoe YMCA. I did the 4.4-mile James River Rip Swim on May 11th. It started at Watkins Landing and ended at Robious Landing.

It was not as challenging as the Bay will be, but still harder than I anticipated. One unwelcome bit of drama was when I accidentally swam hard into a tree limb, cracked my head, and kept swimming. When I took my cap off at the end, it was full of blood. That was dramatic.

A&A: How did it feel to accomplish this?

Mic: It felt good. In part to get it done, but in part to get reacclimated to open water. The James water temperature was 72 degrees, which was fine. But the air temperature was 49 degrees. The swimmers were glad to get into the water.

A&A: Tell us about water and what it means to you. Why swim?

Mic: Swimming is inspirational and meditative for me. There are several components of how water inspires me. One, is that I am with nature and vulnerable. Also, there is a spiritual quality to being a part of the environment. It is a much more personal experience than riding in a boat. I am conscious of the water, as is my body and my mind. At the end of a swim I am tired, but my mind is clear.

A&A: Tell us more about the Bay swim you are doing June 9th.

Mic: The Chesapeake Bay swim involves several hundred swimmers. You must get in by lottery. I was lucky enough to gain entry. I had to do a qualifying swim beforehand. I did a 3-mile swim and did it in 1 hour and 45 minutes.

The Chesapeake Bay swim is 4.4 miles in Annapolis Md. In Sandy Point State Park, you swim from the beach over to the bridges. The two bridges are the course all the way across the bay, and you get disqualified if you swim outside of the 2 bridges. The organizers try to time it so that the swimmers are in the middle of the Bay during slack tide, but it is very challenging.

A&A: What is your objective with this swim?

Mic: At first, I started swimming just to rebuild my body. I started swimming in November after being out of the water for over four years. My first swim was a mile and a half (2500 meters). It went well, so I did it again. Then I thought “What if I tried to swim across the Bay?”

I watched the film Nyad, and then entered the lottery for the Bay and was accepted. At first, the point of the swim was just to give me a goal, but also to make a statement to other cancer patients. No matter how dire the outlook, you can fight. I want to serve as an inspiration to other cancer patients. More recently, it occurred to me that this could be a wonderful way to raise money for cancer research. I then partnered with Massey on this idea and here we are.

A&A: How can people support this?

Mic: Massey and I have collaborated to create a web page to donate. It talks a bit about my progress and my recent and upcoming swims.

A&A: What would you say to someone going through this or who has a loved one going through this?

Mic: Everyone’s journey is personal and different. I am an open book, but some people are more private. The patient struggles, of course, but so do family and friends. Personally, I think the hardest job is to be the caretaker. My wife is the biggest hero in this cancer experience.

One insight I would offer to someone who is diagnosed with cancer, is to think, “What are we going to do about it?”  On the medical side, you show up and do what you can. On the physical side, you push yourself. To the extent consistent with your medical advice, exercise until you get tired, but then exercise just a bit more. That approach is especially important for endurance sports. The real work doesn’t begin until after you get tired.

A&A: It is amazing that you are sitting here today, as healthy as you are. What got you through?

Mic: My superpower is that don’t quit. I am not a gifted swimmer or athlete. I just don’t quit. It worked for me as a trial lawyer, and it works for me as a swimmer.

A&A: Do you have a goal for money to be raised?

Mic: The goal is $5000 on my fundraising webpage. I would like to blow past that.


If you’d like to donate toward VCU’s Massey Cancer Center, please visit Mic’s donation page below.