Step out of your comfort zone after breast cancer: Miranda’s story
Why pushing your boundaries can help you heal, and can even help others going through the journey
When you’re recovering from breast cancer, your world can become very small. It’s natural to hold onto what feels safe – after all, you’ve made it through a life-threatening disease and now you don’t want to tempt fate by doing anything out of the ordinary. But for some women, a brush with death actually propels them to expand their horizons and challenge their courage even further. For Miranda, the chance to support the charity that meant so much to her was all the incentive she needed to face one of her biggest fears.
I wanted to step out of my comfort zone after breast cancer, and what better way than to sign up for a tandem sky dive? But despite my initial bravado, I found myself questioning time and again just why I, who am terrified of heights, would sign up for this.
The answer is actually quite simple. I wouldn’t even contemplate doing this for just anyone, that’s for sure. The only reason I would do it would be to raise a significant amount of money for the charity that helped me the most through my breast cancer journey. To be perfectly honest, the sum of money would never be enough. But doing something that pushes me way beyond my comfort zone aptly demonstrates, I think, my level of gratitude, and hopefully will help ensure that the charity (Wessex Cancer Trust) can continue to help others like me, struggling to come to terms with life during and after cancer treatment.
In signing up for the jump I never imagined what it would be like. How could I? If anything I tried not to think about it in the run up to the event because whenever I did, my palms started to sweat. As time went on and I told more people what I was going to do they inevitably asked me “Why!?” (given my fear of heights – or rather, falling from a great height). All I knew was that the work the charity did was of paramount importance to me and would be to countless others too, so I just wanted to help them to continue to do that. The surgeons may have saved my life but Wessex Cancer Trust had given me a life worth living, and I wanted to live it, to the full.
Surprisingly, the night before the jump I slept really well. Perhaps because the thought of leaping out of a plane was too great for my brain to comprehend but perhaps also because the weather forecast for the next day was not good – which meant I just might not have to do it after all.
It rained heavily all morning with no signs of clearing up and, as people started to reschedule their jumps, I decided to do the same. From the comfort of a local pub my friends and I ate lunch and watched the rain, and then the clouds parted to reveal the most beautiful autumnal blue sky. The conditions were suddenly picture-perfect. So, true to my resolution, I decided to go back to the airfield and see if I could get the jump in.
I was too late, or so it seemed: the scheduled drops which had been postponed were being pushed through two hours later and my slot had gone. My friends and I were invited to wait and see if anything could be done to fit me in, so we waited. An hour or so later, just when I had resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t going to happen, my name was called out and I was next up. Reality hit home. I suddenly felt sick and was regretting having lunch so soon, but there was no way out now.
My parachute buddy, Jay, was great. He calmly talked me through what was going to happen at every stage and really put my mind at ease. He introduced me to the lady who would be filming my jump – Olga, who took me to one side for a quick pre-jump interview. My stomach was really starting to turn at this point and as she interviewed me I suddenly realised that my nerves were getting the better of me – I was fiddling with my harness and had unknowingly undone one of the ties! Luckily I had only unravelled a length of excess cord that had been neatly tucked in so as not to flap around, and nothing more.
As I turned to walk to the airfield my friends called out: “Miranda! Have you seen the message on the back of your suit!?” I hadn’t, and asked them what it said. They simply replied “You don’t want to know!” Obviously I then had to know what it was. It said: ‘Danger! Parachute systems sometimes fail to operate correctly, even when properly manufactured, assembled, packed and operated…’ If I hadn’t been outside my comfort zone up until that point, I certainly was now!
With five tandem jumpers to a plane and some with a camera crew too, the ascent to 10,000 feet was certainly snug. Looking out of the window, ground level suddenly seemed so far away and everything felt very unreal. Looking back, I don’t think I was able to process what was going on or what was just about to happen. It was as if it was happening to someone else and I was just watching from the sidelines.
The door opened, the first tandem jump went, then the next. In a matter of seconds it was my turn. We shuffled along the floor of the plane… 1… 2… 3 and we were out, free-falling – although it didn’t feel like falling at all. It was like landing onto soft pillows with the wind blowing in my face. I kept my eyes open – I didn’t want to miss a thing, I wanted to remember this experience for all that it was and to feel more alive than I had ever done before.
It was like nothing I could ever have imagined. I felt free, invigorated and liberated. Thirty seconds later the chute opened. I felt fully supported, as if I were strapped into a swing. Looking out to the horizon with no real noise around, there was a wonderful sense of calm and serenity, the exact opposite of what I would have imagined that moment to feel like.
Five minutes later we were landing in the airfield. The skydive was over. It certainly was an incredible experience and one I would actually do again, maybe from 15,000 feet next time!
My cancer diagnosis changed both my lifestyle and my outlook on life considerably. Just over a year ago my comfort zone didn’t go much beyond my house, and now I’ve faced one of my biggest fears to demonstrate just how far I’ve come and to give thanks to the unfaltering support of the cancer charity that pulled me through those tough times.