Three California pancreatic cancer survivors know just how lucky they are to be alive, so to celebrate — and give hope to others suffering from the deadly disease — they went skydiving Saturday.
“To me this cancer can do whatever it wants to my body but it is not going to touch my soul, it is not going to take my joy away,” says Lupe Romero, 55, a five-year survivor now fighting her third bout with the disease.
This was Romero’s sixth jump. She made her first in 2012 with a gift she received when given three to six months to live.
Romero found the jumps more meaningful if fellow survivors came along. On Saturday, she jumped from a plane at 13,000 feet with Susie Lemieux, 59, diagnosed a year ago (and just months after her husband died of the disease) and Roberta Luna, a 15-year survivor whose father, mother, grandmother and uncle died from pancreatic cancer.
“It was exhilarating, awesome,” said Lemieux after the jump in Perris, California. “There’s nothing like facing your own mortality to sort of cut you off at the knees and make you appreciate each day as a gift.
All three women are active volunteers with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, which not only works on pushing for more clinical trials but provides emotional support and free help for patients and caregivers to find the best specialists trained in treating the disease.
Pancreatic cancer has an extremely low five-year survival rate of just 9 percent and is usually diagnosed after it has spread.
“I feel like I was put here for a reason and that is to give people hope,” says Luna.
“Yes the diagnosis is horrible but there is hope out there,” she continues. “I’ve seen so much change as far as treatments and medications and how do you know you are not going to be that one in a million who is going to survive?”
Early detection for pancreatic cancer is difficult, since there are no screening tests.
Lemieux and Luna both caught the disease early due to their insistence on getting tested following symptoms that would not normally raise red flags.
Lemieux started having “mild tummy aches” three months after her husband’s death from pancreatic cancer in October, 2015. Luna had had bouts of nausea and diarrhea and fought her doctor to be tested, due to her family history.
“My dad didn’t have a month after his diagnosis,” says Luna. “I feel very lucky.”
All three women plan on jumping again within the year, and hope to bring another survivor along.
“If I can will myself out of the plane, it gives me the hope I can do anything,” Luna says, “that I can fight this disease for fellow survivors and caregivers. Skydiving gives me something back, that I can deal with whatever is thrown at me.”