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  • Writer's pictureSharon Bina

3 Stories of Making Memories

The initial goal when starting 2 Miles of Smiles was to give cancer patients and survivors an adventurous day away from cancer that would bring them empowerment and courage. Since this experience is better when shared with a friend, we also pay for a companion to skydive with them. If there are additional friends who want to join in the excitement, we allow them to jump with us but they must pay for their own skydive. We knew that the person living with cancer would have a great memory of their exciting adventure, however; we didn’t realize that we were creating memories for others in their group also.


At our first event, I quickly realized we were creating memories for everyone who joined us skydiving that day. Our group of 18 included cancer patients, survivors, and those who had lost a loved one to cancer. Throughout the day, we discovered that each person had a unique story as to why they were jumping and creating their own memories.


Steve Lasater’s story:


Steve was the 1st cancer patient to receive our service, and was part of our inaugural event on August 31, 2019. We were ready to create memories for Steve, but we didn’t realize how important creating memories would be for his family and friends. Steve’s skydiving companion was his son Heath, and his dear friend, Dawn Bowers and her son Josh joined us as guests. Steve also brought a support group that included his wife Ramona and they were all wearing T- shirts with “Steve Strong” printed on them.



Even though Steve was a patient and continually struggling with cancer, he and his friends created memories that were not about Steve fighting cancer, but of him living life to the fullest. I got to know Steve during the event and more so afterward through his Facebook post. He was always praising God regardless of his illness and treatments or how many doctor appointments and hospital stays he had. He was a man to be admired.



Unfortunately, Steve passed away July 14, 2020, and his son, Heath, posted a picture on Facebook of them at the drop zone with his words, “I’m just glad I got the opportunity to go sky diving with him; it’s one of my favorite memories I have with him.” After seeing this post, we realized 2 Miles of Smiles isn’t just about creating memories for the person with cancer, but also creating memories for their family and friends that they can carry with them long after their loved one has passed away.



The story of people who have lost someone to cancer:


Another occurrence that opened our eyes to the memories we are creating was during our first skydive. At this event we had several guests join us who had lost someone to cancer and we invited them to create an expression board in memory of their loved one. We also encouraged them to “take their loved one’s memory with them” by writing their name on a card which was tucked in their pockets. This may not have been the making of memories, but it allowed those who had lost a loved one to remember them that day and smile knowing they were 14,000 feet closer to them as they sailed in the blue skies.



Also at our inaugural event, I jumped for the 13th time in memory and honor of Seth Darnell, who passed away in 2007. Watching Seth skydive 13 years earlier inspired me to start 2 Miles of Smiles, so it was my privilege to remember him on this special day. There were also 2 of Seth’s closest friends, Morgan Moore Lane and Matt Summers, who also jumped in his memory. Seth’s parents, John and Denise Darnell, were at the event and it really touched them that we were jumping in honor of their son. It allowed them to remember the 2 times that Seth went skydiving and had the time of his life.



John Kutzke’s story:


On August 7th, 2021, we had a group of 4 friends who signed up to skydive. Mayra Andiola and Robin DeSimone were cancer survivors, John Kutzke was a patient whose cancer had recently returned, and John’s companion Hayden Schaum also came to support him. John was on active treatment which was switched a month before, and he was having a difficult time with the new treatments. His friends went from thinking he might be done with treatments over the summer to finding out he would never be done with chemo. His friend, Robin, told me “This day means everything to him.”


We had a great day with these 4 friends. It was a fun-filled day with laughter and of course nerves about jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. John’s friends were making the most of the day, even though they were worried about John. However, John wasn’t going to let his ongoing treatments affect his day and he thoroughly enjoyed his skydive. His comments in our journal book after the jump were:


“So, this week I felt empty. My treatment was sucking life out of me. I had nothing left. Today I live again. I remember that life is a series of moments. While we don’t get to choose the bad ones, these good ones complete the human experience. Today I am thankful.”



Over the next few months John had some bleak moments as his cancer was progressing, but during this time his dear friend Robin said, “He held onto the invigorating feeling he got from his jump.”


In September 2021 the doctor radiated a new tumor which gave John some relief, but he wasn’t ready to quit. At this point, he starting making a new bucket list to attack when he was better. The motivation for this new list was brought on by his jump 2 miles up in the sky. His list included sharking diving as the next adventure.


Miraculously John was still fighting in July, 2022 but he was about to enter hospice. He and Robin were talking about life and he told her. “I had an awesome life…I dove with sea turtles and jumped out of a plane.” We feel blessed that 2 Miles of Smiles created a memory which made John’s top 2 list.


Unfortunately, John succumbed to cancer on September 17th 2022. His death leaves a heartache no one can heal, but the memory of him skydiving with his friends will forever be in their hearts.




 

2 Miles of Smiles has helped to make memories for lots of people, but we are not finished yet, and plan on creating new memories for many more.

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