Even in the face of a cancer diagnosis, it seems like nothing can sink the spirits of Tara Andrews.
At 29, Andrews runs her own businesses, Beyond Buoyancy Aquatics, which provides one-one-one or two-on-one swim classes with the help of her fiance John Clark at their home in Bradford.
The couple had just gone through two years of navigating the pandemic, and finding solutions to continue offering lessons — reducing classes and even wearing scuba masks to keep everyone safe — before finally returning to full classes last year and planning their wedding for this September.
That’s when Andrews noticed she was feeling physically exhausted.
“There was really no explanation, as I was feeling good with everything else,” she said.
Then in February of this year, she started experiencing a pain in the side of her neck that ran down into her shoulder.
Until then, Andrews had been exercising five to six times a week, but the pain became so bad, she wasn’t able to remain active.
“It was to the point that it was unbearable,” she said. “I thought I had maybe injured myself at the gym or something.”
She and Clark went to Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket to get an X-ray where they discovered a softball-sized mass in her chest was cutting off circulation to the nerves in her neck.
After a few biopsies, she was diagnosed with Stage1/2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma, but Andrews wasn’t going to let that stop her from doing what she loves.
“Moving forward, I decided that there would be no chance that I wouldn’t be running some school this year, because it just gives me so much joy and I have so much passion for it,” she said.
That passion was recognized on May 24, when Andrews received the Youth Entrepreneur Award at the South Simcoe Business Excellence Awards ceremony, hosted by Nottawasaga Futures at the Gibson Centre in Alliston.
“To be able to accept it while going through treatments for cancer ... I’m just very proud of us. It was a great experience. The Nottawasaga Futures always put on a great ceremony,” said Andrews who also won the award in 2017 and 2019.
She credited her staff, customers and the community for being so supportive and helping the business succeed.
When asked about the award, Clark stressed how hard Andrews has worked.
“She built this from the ground up. She’s the one that laid all the ground work, did all the grinding, built up a customer base, so she’ll share it with me, but it’s her award and she’s extremely deserving of it and I’m very proud of her,” he said.
Andrews said she started working as a swim instructor at 16, and while it wasn’t always her plan to start her own business, things changed after she went to Georgian College and built a business plan in their Business Entrepreneurship program, which she presented to her parents and they agreed to let her run the lessons out of their property starting in 2016.
Then in 2020 she bought the home from her parents where classes are still offered from June through September, and just last they year rented a facility in Holland Landing to offers classes through the winter.
She estimates they have more than 200 students and six full-time staff in the summer and this year’s classes were fully booked before the end of March.
A cancer diagnosis wasn’t part of the plan.
“I’m running a business, I have a house to pay for. This isn’t what you expect out of your life at 29,” Andrews said.
Luckily, her treatment seems to be working.
“They caught it pretty early, which is great. My initial diagnosis had some spots on my right-side ribs, however, through some testing and some scans we are seeing that clear up, so I’m hopeful that’s the way it’s going to keep going,” she said.
Andrews just completed her seventh of 12 chemotherapy sessions an experience she described as a “hangover feeling that just constantly looms over you.”
She tries to remain positive, but living with cancer at such a young age “has been very eye opening to how amazing the body can be and how resilient it can be, but how terrifying it can be at the same time.”
Still, she refuses to let it slow her down.
“The kids give me so much joy. I have three dogs that absolutely love to go for walks and runs. I have a beautiful family. I have everything to live for, so it doesn’t make sense for me to let it take over my life,” she said.
Clark said he’s proud of how Andrews has remained positive and pushed through even on the harder days.
“She’s handled it with such grace and she’s not letting it hold her back. It’s hard to hold her back from doing anything she really cares about or is passionate about regardless of how she’s feeling,” he said.
Andrews credits Clark, her family and her staff for their support.
“I lean on them heavily, and they’re so giving, it makes things much easier for me,” she said.
Looking to the future, Andrews’ treatment should be complete in September and the couple are hopeful they will be able to restart planning for their wedding which they’ve moved to the following year.
For more information about Beyond Buoyancy Aquatics, visit their website bbaquatics.ca.