First women in history dock wingsuit and parachute; “Project XRW” sets new records

Today we attended the Portland Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Event in Portland, Maine. Eli, Jason Fogg of Skydive New England, and me were excited to hand over our donation from the Skydive New England (SNE) fundraiser in August. The dropzone donated a portion of every tandem skydive and tandem video for the weekend, and there were several prize draws for both fun jumpers and visitors. Our check also encompassed a very special donation from SNE staff members Tony and Kelly Hays.

When planning a fundraiser, we often have no idea exactly whose lives we are going to touch. During the weekend of our event, Kelly came up to me on the packing mat at the dropzone and gave me a hug. Until that moment, I had no idea that her mother is a breast cancer survivor, or what she and her family went through. I asked her if she would take some time out after the weekend to tell me her story, and she agreed. As human beings, and within our skydiving communities, one of the most important things we can do is bear witness to each other’s struggles and celebrate the triumphs that come after adversity. This is Kelly’s story.

When my mom called that day in 2007, the last thing she wanted to tell us was that she had cancer. She was worried we wouldn’t handle it. But all I could think was that I wish I would get it, if that would save her. My stepdad lost his first wife to melanoma, so it was especially hard dealing with the diagnosis. I told my mom, “We can get through this all together. You’ve been a tower of strength and a guiding light my whole life, so now it’s time for me to be here for you.”

 We did a charity swim and raised money. We stayed positive, and one thing I believe that got us through was talking and realizing that she chose not to be a victim. We chose to rise above it and focus on how to get through it, more than anything. She didn’t want people to feel sorry for her. She’s always thrown positive light on everything, and she never gave up her dark chocolate, her bags of chips, the things she enjoyed. She wouldn’t lay down and die. She’s an amazing woman. If you never believed in angels, you have to meet my mom and then you would. 

When treatment began, she had a lumpectomy, then chemotherapy. For me being her daughter and having training as a hairdresser, it was heartbreaking when she started losing her hair. I would go home and cry so she wouldn’t see me being upset. We’d sit in the chemo clinic where everyone would go, and they’d have little cards with sayings for the day that would make you smile. We would giggle our heads off, just laugh over nothing. We had an overwhelming feeling of joy that we could be together and share the experience.

Before her hair fell out, they gave her nutritional diets, a makeup session, and wigs. Steve (my stepdad), mom and I went to the wig place. It was full of wigs in shoeboxes. We tried on all the funny wigs – I had a gray, curly-haired one, she had a red sexy one, and the lady that was with us said, “this is the most fun I’ve had doing this!” It’s a sad time. My stepdad was okay with us laughing. He didn’t know whether to grieve, and we were all on an emotional roller coaster. Because he had lost his first partner, it was hard. But he realized that the laughter was keeping us together.

 My mom didn’t want to eat with all the chemicals in her body. I guess you feel like you’re poisoned with all those drugs in you. She said she’d get a metal taste in her mouth, and her nose would tickle.

 The radiation came, and she had to get the markings of where they would do it. She said, “Look, I got my first tattoo!” and it was just four little dots. She’s not the wildest woman, but she joked about it. And she got a porto-cath, which felt foreign. When she got clear, they removed the porto-cath and that felt like the end.

 All the laughing and crying was healing for the whole lot of us. We laughed so many times about silly stuff that was probably so inappropriate and so uncalled for, but it kept us alive.

Now, Kelly’s mom is in remission after the several-year ordeal. Kelly’s husband Tony donated his earnings as a working skydiver for one whole day of the event, a huge gesture and one that made our donation possible today. Kelly and Tony, and everyone at Skydive New England who contributed to raising awareness and funds for the American Cancer Society, thank you for being a part of the healing energy for cancer patients, survivors, and their families. We can’t wait to do this again next year and donate an even larger amount – though the check itself probably couldn’t get any bigger!

Your fundraising support, through Raise the Sky, enables the American Cancer Society to save lives by:

  • Helping people stay well by educating and empowering women to live healthy lives and reduce their risk for breast cancer, and to get screening tests such as mammograms to find breast cancer early, when it is easiest to treat
  • Helping people facing breast cancer get well by providing information, day-to-day help, and emotional support to guide them through every step of their breast cancer experience
  • Finding cures by investing in and conducting research that leads to groundbreaking discoveries into breast cancer’s causes and cures
  • Fighting back by working with legislators to support laws that help fight breast cancer and help all women get access to screenings and care