I came from a survivor, my mother, survived breast cancer and a mastectomy at the age of 50. She inspired me to make a personal vow that I would be a survivor too. Therefore, I was diligent in getting my annual screenings from whatever clinic my insurance covered. It was simple, go in and get it done. That was until a divorce left me without medical insurance. I missed my annual mammogram in 2008 and that worried me.
When a friend told me about free mammograms being offered at San Jacinto Hospital in Baytown, I called for an appointment and was relieved to find that I qualified. I went in for my screening and was called back. I was surprised to learn that the second mammogram was covered too. The second test results weren’t good. I was referred to The Rose, a clinic dedicated to helping women survive cancer regardless of how they pay. Being dependent on charity was new to me. I had recently lost my home due to hurricane Ike, so I was forced to move. I was self-employed working two jobs. I didn’t expect to receive the quality of care that I had enjoyed in the past as an insured person. Imagine my surprise when I arrived for my first appointment at The Rose!
I found a beautiful clean facility with friendly people who treated me with dignity and respected my time. I had another mammogram that indicated the need for a biopsy. That was a very scary time. Several years before, I had found something that truly made me feel alive. I had found my family, a place that I belonged and my true love... skydiving. My home dropzone was at Skydive Spaceland Houston in Rosharon, Texas. I was determined that this cancer threat was not going to take that from me.
Before my scheduled biopsy, I went to a camp for skydivers and challenged myself to be part of a 100-way skydive. I felt so alive and even got my 700th jump on my first 100-Way. Not only had I accomplished this goal, but I had also found inside of me the confidence to go back to Texas in a toe-to-toe battle for my life to beat this cancer. I also had a drive to help other women accomplish the feeling that we as skydiving women can do anything that we set our minds to do.
The first time I met Dr. Melillo was brief; she was the surgeon that performed my biopsy. The second time I met with this strong compassionate doctor, she told me straight up that I had cancer. She explained to me that it was in the early stages and that she could be my surgeon if I made that choice. I was overwhelmed by the diagnosis of breast cancer and frightened about being able to afford my treatments. I shared my concern with her, and she explained to me that this was exactly the reason that she had founded The Rose. She was tired of women coming in with breast cancer and no insurance or a way to pay for treatment. She wanted to help them and now she wanted to help me. She explained that when one woman pays with insurance, she can help another woman with no insurance. Dr. Dixie Melillo and Dorothy Gibbons established The Rose as a non-profit organization existing solely on donations. I was so relieved, I cried. I had a partner that was going to help me through this cancer. I chose to have the lumpectomy surgery with Dr. Mellilo and it was successful. I then followed up with radiation treatment and resumed my life.
This was the moment Jump for the Rose was born. I didn’t know it at the time, I just knew that I wanted to do something to raise money for The Rose. That year, a group of women, led by Kate Cooper Jensen in California had raised close to a million dollars at a skydiving event called Jump for The Cause. I told Dr. Melillo that I was going to pay her back. She smiled and told me when I won the lottery to come and see her.
I wanted to give back to The Rose and Dr. Melillo through skydiving. In early 2010, I discussed my idea with my skydiving girlfriends at Skydive Spaceland and Jump for the Rose became a reality. Through the help of the skydiving community the first event was held in October that year. We raised over $11,000 dollars and broke a Women’s National and Texas State skydiving record. It was a wonderful day in December when I handed Dixie that first check. We were both crying as I said to her “I told you I’d pay you back.” Since then, my relationship with The Rose has grown. Through Dorothy Gibbons, the president of The Rose, I became one of the faces of the Susan G. Komen foundation, a huge supporter of The Rose. That resulted in many great adventures. I’m also on the Advisory Board for The Rose and currently Jump for the Rose is the fourth largest fundraising event for The Rose! Jump for the Rose has raised over $100,000 to date. We have broken 5 skydiving records at Skydive Spaceland. Two National women’s records, two Texas State women’s records and one women’s WORLD Record. Each year has seen the total amount raised increase. I love handing Dr. Melillo that check every year!
It only seems right to combine the two things that I am most blessed to have in my life: Skydiving and The Rose. So far, the wonderful skydiving community has come together every year to dedicate a weekend to raising money to save lives at the Jump for the Rose Pinkfest Boogie.
I love doing this…