Per usual, I’m the last to board the plane. Running through JFK’s Terminals 4 and 5 while carrying 20 pounds of carry on, I’m dripping sweat as I round the corner to gate B41. That’s when I see it—a pink rainbow made of balloons and an enthusiastic Delta team, all clad in bright pink, cheering me on as I pant my way through check in.
I wouldn’t run this hard on a tight connection to make an average flight, but this isn’t just any flight—this is Delta’s super special annual flight for breast cancer survivors.
“It’s about celebrating life,” said Jamie Cusick, who brought her friend Traci Clancy, a breast cancer survivor, on this plane as a surprise by bidding on seats with her SkyMiles. “When you go through chemotherapy and radiation, there are times that are just so tough, so we put fun on the calendar as a way of looking forward. We were just determined to be here.”
Throughout the month of October, Delta sells pink lemonade as a way to raise funds that are donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Since 2005 when the partnership began, Delta has raised over 11 million dollars, which have gone towards funding seven significant research projects making advancements in solving the disease, including two abroad and five in the United States, said Myra Biblowit, President and CEO of BCRF.
“What stands between today and cure, pure and simple, is funding,” Bilbowit said. “We rely on companies like Delta to give us fuel to keep fighting.”
The flight is also a way for Delta to honor its employees who have personal battles with breast cancer. On board the 140-passenger flight were women like Antonia Wysong, a pilot who has flown for Delta for 12 years but briefly lost her flying license due to breast cancer (she has since had it reinstated after beating her disease), and men like Tom Stavran, who has worked for the company for 34 years in the IT department.
“I had a lump on my breast I ignored for two years, and it spread to my lymph nodes and lungs,” Stavran said. “The problem with men is we don’t get tested as often.”
In Stavran’s journey, having normalcy has been key.
“My wife and I finally decided that we are not going to ruin our today lives with what might happen,” he said. “This event has really been uplifting. There are a lot of strong women here who have cancer, and it’s just a normal thing, and there’s no self-pity allowed.”
The flight from JFK to LAX ended with a special dinner at the JW Marriott where survivors like Rita Wilson and Wanda Sykes came to share their stories and support. Women on the flight who were not Delta employees were chosen by application, flown free of charge by Delta and provided accommodation at the JW Marriott in LA. Aboard the flight, a series of items were auctioned off to raise funds for BCRF—flight attendants danced in the aisles, a conga line broke out at 30k feet, and ultimately, the crew and passengers aboard raised $20k for BCRF.
“The last time I flew it hadn’t been a year since my journey began and it was the first time I felt like it was actually going to be okay,” said Lisa Dale, a passenger who also bid Skymiles for her flight. “We are going to be here, no matter what.”