14-Year-Old Illinois Girl to Swim Across Lake Michigan for Cancer Research: 'I Want to Help Find a Cure'

14-Year-Old Illinois Girl to Swim Across Lake Michigan for Cancer Research
Jillian Bacon
Jillian Bacon/John McCormack/Steve Gadomski

07/30/2015 AT 11:10 AM EDT

After losing several family members to cancer, 14-year-old Jillian Bacon knew she had to find a way to end the disease that has taken so much from her.

On Friday, Bacon, who is an incoming freshman at Maine South High School in Park Ridge, Illinois, will be swimming across Lake Michigan to raise money for cancer research.

All of the money will go to Rush University Medical Center, where her great uncle was treated before he died earlier this year.

"I have a lot of my family and friends who have passed away from cancer," Bacon tells PEOPLE. "I wanted to help try to find a cure for cancer. I lost my grandmother to cancer. She battled pancreatic cancer for 18 months. My great aunt passed away from breast cancer this past year, along with her brother who passed away this year from colon cancer."

So far, the teen has raised $4,190 towards her goal of $5,000.

"I'm doing this to honor them, end cancer and make my family proud," she says.

Swim Across Lake Michigan starts at 7 p.m. on July 31 on the shores of Chicago. Participants swim relay style until they reach the beaches of Michiana, Michigan, the following day.

Bacon is part of a 20-person team that will cover the 43-mile course in shifts, donning glow sticks and strobe lights to see in the water when night falls. She estimates she will be in the water for 16 hours, depending on the conditions.

The inspiring teen says she's not nervous for the swim because she has completed multiple swims in the past. While Bacon's nerves are intact, her mother, Monica, says she's plenty nervous for the both of them.

"I'm always nervous," she tells PEOPLE. "She's done some open water swims before, and I'm not as nervous with this one because sharks are not involved. In other open swims, there have been sharks. This one we have to worry more about boats."

To prepare for the arduous event, Bacon has been working out twice a day. She says she swims three to four hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. She also finds strength from her friends and family.

"My uncle [Peter Gerngross] is the one who first introduced me to open water swimming," she says. "He is the one who has been mentally preparing me for this and teaching me all the tricks to know where you are [in the water] and stuff like that."

Bacon says no matter the outcome, she's already proud of what she's accomplished in the fight to end cancer.

"All the money is going to a great cause," she says. "It's not like you're just donating money and you don't know where it's going. It's something you can do without having to be a doctor. You don't have to have the brains to figure out the cancer or how to solve it. You just need to raise the money and give it to the people who actually know how to do that job. It's just a great feeling to help out."

Her mother adds, "I'm really proud of what she wants to accomplish. "I think it's a really big goal to have, and I'm very proud of her for wanting to do something to make a change."

Check out Bacon's fundraising page to find out how you can donate to her efforts.

UPDATE: Swim Across Lake Michigan was postponed due to lake conditions. It will be rescheduled during a weekend in August.
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