About a month ago Mr Brehm shared a thought with me. He had been researching flights to Florida. Flights that would give us the opportunity to surprise the boys with a mid-winter visit to snowbirding grandparents. And he’d found a heckuva deal. It was out of Kansas City but it was too good to pass up. And with grandma and grandpa B there, we wouldn’t be paying for lodging or car rental. Sign. Me. Up. So. Flights booked a few weeks back. And we would tell the boys the day of.
As we planned the trip, we decided on beaching, seeing grandma and grandpa’s Florida life, and a day at Universal Studios to see Harry Potter World. (And of course, a recap of that will all be coming) And then, we talked skydiving.
I had begun talking about skydiving awhile ago. And maybe wanting to do it to commemorate my one year cancer-free-versary. I know. It’s hard to keep up with all my special dates, isn’t it? But when you go through treatment, the dates are plenty. And my cancer-free-versary is, for me, the same date as my double mastectomy, February 25, because according to my insurance, that was the date of the procedure that produced my clear pathology.
And that day… it’s a biggie. Because each year away from it is a win. Each year with good bloodwork and no red flags increases my odds. Because it means I’m thriving and surviving. Because at the 5 year mark, I will truly be freeeeee for insurance purposes.
Anywho. To commemorate the day, I wanted to do something big. Something to say, I will not forget what cancer did to my life. I will not let go of the way it made me let go. I will not forget the way it reminds me daily to live big. Love boldly. Say what I feel. Make it all matter and count. Have faith. Laugh with my heart. And above all, don’t waste it all on worry.
So why not jump out of a plane?! Ha!
And Adam Brehm was on board. At Christmas, a friend and faux little bro, Logan, who had skydived over Dubai with his dad gave me this advice: if you’re gonna do it, find an awesome view.
So Adam Brehm did what he does and researched the best places for such things that were close to where we were going to be. It would be a little ahead of schedule but we wouldn’t be in Florida on my birthday or my anniversary so we would make it happen when we were.
He found Skydive Venice Beach, an hour and a half jaunt from St Pete’s area (where we were staying) to Venice Beach (down the gulf coast). And thank the Lord, Adam’s parents were not only supportive, but excited to drive the whole tribe down for the excursion (because they are cool like that). So. We booked it the day before.
Noon. February 13. Skydive Venice Beach. Ten minute prep. Half hour-ish up. Seven minutes down.
And I was ready. In fact, I don’t know if it was the Lexapro or just my post-cancer brain, but I was not one smudge of nervous, anxious, or scared. Just. Ready.
We got there and met the first very friendly face, Rachel. She was kind, welcoming, and very laid back, which I loved. So. I signed my life away. Which, after you have had toxic chemo put in your body and your boobs chopped off, you’re pretty used to doing.
Then. I met John. The pilot. Loved the guy right away. He carried my brand of sarcasm. And had all kinds of questions about my cancer and treatment. And even made a joke about me “trading up” with the new gals. (Oh, and I know… My boobs look massive. It’s because I was told to wear fitted, comfortable clothing… so, well, I did.)
Next I met the head hauncho, Les, who was adorable and sweet. And Mark, one the instructors who would be accompanying us on the flight and jump, who had over 7000 jumps to his name.
And then, my tandem buddy and instructor extraordinaire, Mike. He had done over 2000 jumps, was a military veteran, and was totally into peace, love, and chill life. Just my speed of dude.
I watched a quick video from 1986 made by the guy who invented tandem jumping that talked about the risks and not suing anyone. And then, Mike got me suited in my harness.
Mr Brehm and I made out for a second (because I was jumping out of a plane) and I joked about needing to go bone one more time (I know… nothin’ but class here) and we kissed again and parted ways. Did he want to jump, people have asked. He totally would have. Adam is up for anything and everything. In fact, to be honest, in Aruba, I was even afraid to snorkel and he had to talk me into it and now I was the one getting ready to throw myself out a plane. But we determined that both of us plummeting toward the ground with three little kids to take care of didn’t seem like the smartest parenting choice (yes. We did discuss that and it was of HUGE consideration for me prior to deciding to do it) sooooo… it was determined that, per the uzh, he would support my crazy.
So I waved goodbye and went to the plane.
Mike talked me through some of the mechanics and logistics, where I most definitely would need to put my feet once the door opened. How I would need to tilt my head up and back. How I would need to remember to open my eyes and enjoy it. And that it would be amazing. Mark and Les boarded and sat on one side of the floor behind the pilot’s seat (the plane was not even tall enough for me to stand up) facing the rear window. We got in beside them. And up we went. Mike took a few videos of me and captured some of the moments. We hooked tightly together. I took in the insanely breathtaking views. John, the pilot, made lots of jokes about not knowing what to do next. I talked with God briefly about safety and joy and presence. And at 10,000 feet, we scooted towards the door.
Holy shit. You can see me say it a few times on the video they took. I said it when the door opened. That’s the one moment where I couldn’t believe I was really doing it. My heart wasn’t beating fast. I wasn’t freaking out. But I was surprised I was really going to rock it. Because in my “before cancer life” it wouldn’t have ever been appealing to me (and that’s totally okay with me).
We put our feet out and yes… for that moment I thought, “I am bananas.”
I closed my eyes at first. Clearly Mike was not about to close his.
And then, when I opened them. Wow.
Wow. Wow. Wow.
We did the freefall. Mike reminded me to let my hands go.
And it was like no feeling I’ve ever felt before. In a way, it was like the first part of cancer… because I was spiraling out of control. But it wasn’t scary like that was. It was exhilarating. It was thrilling. And yet, it seemed calm.
It was beautiful. The wind. The air around us. The ocean view. It was truly a gift. I felt free.
The falling was a mix of a peace that passes understanding, and alllll the feels.
I’m not sure how far we fell without it but suddenly, he pulled the chute, and up we went…
And then, we were in control, kind of. I mean, as much “in control” as one can be hanging above the earth. And actually, I was in control and Mike guided me on how to direct the chute to the right and left.
Mike told me I was going to lift my legs and don’t try to stand up and as his feet connected with the ground, it almost just felt like we were landing on a tight trampoline because it was so smooth and easy. And we sat down on our bums as the parachute fell behind us.
I felt this sense of letting go. Of celebration. Of really just having lived. And I don’t know if everyone who does it feels that. But it was definitely fitting for my “journey.”
The Skydive Venice Beach team was just my speed. The views were truly unforgettable. The staff was so reassuring and at ease. And excited for me! And Mike was an awesome person to get to jump with because I could tell he loved each and every opportunity to do his job. It was, to me, a once-in-lifetime opportunity (for now… just kidding, mom;), and I’m glad I seized the day.
It’s definitely not for everyone. It’s something, like most things, you gotta do for you and no one else. But man, it was cool.
Thanks so much to Skydive Venice Beach (who did not pay me to do this post or to skydive… believe me, it cost a pretty penny… which also would have made me not do it before cancer), to Adam’s parents for being there and helping the boys watch and to Adam for always being my biggest cheerleader, my main squeeze, and my very best of all things.
And to Nebraska Medicine for giving me wings to fly and a cure to live. Without Dr Tandra, Dr Thayer, Dr Wahl, and Dr Barb (at Think), I’m not sure I could be living my life louder now than I did before. But they always support my crazy whims and my heart’s hopes. And tell me to live live live like cancer isn’t a barrier to any of it.
Cancer was a part of my story. But there’s just a chapter where it was the main character. I want my boys to see that that chapter is further and further back. And we can do hard things. Crazy things. Take leaps of faith. And see the world. We can follow our hearts (when we are 34, that is) and we cannot let worry rule our world. We can do the things that help us feel alive (with responsible consideration and maturity). And above all, we can be our crazy crazy selves and still have people who love us because of that.
I don’t know if I will ever skydive again but I will support adam when he decides it’s his turn. And Lyle and Kathy when they go up in the clouds;). And who knows what next year’s celebration will bring.
The most beautiful part of it all… when I was in the air, I wasn’t thinking about dying. I wasn’t thinking about my thighs. My weight. My hair. My laundry. My to do list. I was just thinking of that moment and what a gift it was to be living it. And how much gratitude I have for my blessed life, while getting to take in the view. And above all, I think that is what life is really meant to do. And skydiving was the perfect way to celebrate and not forget the way Cancer reminded me to be grateful for every single day while it inhabited my body.
It is in the moments that we are really living, not just existing, that we feel life from the inside out. Upside down. And around and around, in circles.