Lisa’s Leap of Faith

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lisa and her instructor Chuck in the air

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.

Have to love the shirt!

Daniel researched skydiving places online and picked SkyDive35 in Hillsboro, TX.

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.

Lisa, safe and sound on solid ground

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.

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