What a way to celebrate my two-year “cancerversary” — with a tandem skydive a few weeks ago!
Now I feel less like a breast cancer survivor and more like a skydiving survivor.
My treatment started October 2009 by Texas Oncology doctors at Baylor at Plano. I had a lumpectomy, axilla dissection, and, of the 33 total lymph nodes removed, 14 had cancer.
Chemo and radiation followed.
I gained almost 20 pounds during treatment but lost the last five after making the skydiving reservation. I was so anxious that I didn’t eat or sleep well those six days before the jump.
I also searched online for precautions to prevent lymphedema (arm and breast swelling and pain) and emailed my lymphedema therapist at Baylor Plano. She wrote back suggesting I wear my compression sleeve and glove as I do when I fly in an airplane or use my arm a lot.
My son Daniel was the instigator for the skydiving. He’s a senior at UT San Antonio and has done bungee jumping.
My husband Charles, Daniel and I tried parasailing last August (where you are attached to a parachute pulled by a boat), but that wasn’t exciting enough.
I took skydiving lessons when I was my son’s age but never made the jump because of windy conditions. I had forgotten all about skydiving.
But tacked to the wall in the patient waiting area of radiation oncologist Mark Engleman‘s office was a photo of a man skydiving, and it must have made an impression on me.
He invited two friends, and we chose October 16th, before he got too busy with school. I thought it would be a good bonding activity even though I get motion sickness easily.
The gal on the phone was reassuring and assigned me an instructor who had jumped with a cancer patient before.
She answered my questions:
- Do you have an AED handy in case my heart stops? (No, they don’t; that has never happened.)
- Does anybody pass out? (Yes.)
- Does anybody throw up? (Yes.)
- Does anybody soil their pants? (No, not that they’ve heard of.)
I wanted to back out of the jump but Daniel wouldn’t let me.
The plane ride to 11,000 feet took 25 minutes, five of us in a tiny airplane. I don’t do well at high altitude and became sluggish and quiet. No exclamations of “woo-hoo!” from me.
When the cabin door opened, I heard and felt the wind, and it was a challenge to put my feet onto the metal step.
Then my instructor Chuck jumped, and I was along for the ride. After a half-somersault, I took the free fall position, as instructed on the ground.
I loved the 32 seconds (according to the video) of free fall. Then Chuck pulled the rip cord, and suddenly, the two men I had been smiling at dropped out of sight, which disturbed my equilibrium.
The falling position then changed to hanging upright in the harness, which was uncomfortable, but what a view!
After a couple of minutes, my affected arm started tingling, and I was getting queasy. I asked Chuck to get me down ASAP. He said we’d be down in 60 seconds, and we were.
My husband, a firefighter, thought I was crazy for wanting to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, but he drove us there and took photos.
I was glad I paid for a videographer to jump with each of us because it’s fun to see what it looks like from another perspective (and because I didn’t think I would ever do it again).
The next day, my husband and I went to Baylor Plano for a lunch talk that Dr. Engleman was giving about radiation and cancer, and Charles couldn’t find a parking space close to the entrance. I whined about walking so far and he said, “If you can jump out of a plane, you can do this.”
We laughed at how that will probably be something he’ll say to me again if I complain about not wanting to or not being able to do something.