Hope and Hang Gliding: The ChemoBabe Takes Flight

Lani Horn has three kids, a PhD from Berkeley, and a tenured teaching post at Vanderbilt University. And stage-three breast cancer.

The diagnosis came back in 2009, just four months after Lani and her husband, Adam, moved their family to Nashville, TN. Lani says her first reaction to the news was: “How is this supposed to work?” No one puts cancer in their five-year plan, after all.

Lani’s doctors began aggressive treatment — the “full battery,” she calls it — including those terrible twins: radiation and chemotherapy. Lani doesn’t bother sugarcoating the experience. “I was really, really sick. Some women are heroic and strong during treatment; I wasn’t.” Fatigue and impairment became familiar companions.

It wasn’t long before the bills confirmed what they had already expected: fighting for your life is expensive. In one year alone, they paid nearly $20,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses — “and that’s with great insurance!” Lani adds emphatically. Strapped financially, Lani and Adam had to say “no to so many things” their kids asked to do. There’s a tinge of sadness in her voice when she talks about this — one that’s noticeably absent when she talks about her own struggles.

So, when an invitation came to spend a week on the Outer Banks completely free of charge, it was nice for Lani and Adam to be able, at long last, to reply with– in Lani’s words — a “big ole’ yes!”

That invitation came from Jeanine Patten-Coble, founder of the Little Pink Houses of Hope, a Raleigh, NC-based nonprofit whose mission is to provide breast cancer survivors with opportunities to reconnect with their families during and after their cancer battles, which, Jeanine points out, is a battle that impacts the whole family, not just the patient. By the way, Jeanine knows a thing or two about breast cancer: she’s a survivor, too.

The idea for the Little Pink Houses of Hope project was born during Jeanine’s own battle with breast cancer and her desire to “do something amazing” with her diagnosis. And amazing things have happened. This year, the organization will host six different retreats up and down the coasts of North and South Carolina — and no survivor or family member ever pays a cent. The cottages, the meals, the entertainment, the activities are all donated by local businesses and private homeowners. When Jeanine contacted us about donating a hang gliding experience, we were excited to be able to provide a diversion for these much-deserving survivors. So excited, in fact, that we said why stop with hang gliding? and donated a kayak tour, too.

Lani says it’s impossible to adequately describe what the Outer Banks retreat meant to her family. “When you have cancer, it’s a challenge to give your kids your best, and your world becomes really small,” Lani says. The retreat, though, provided a chance for the Horns to remove themselves from the day-to-day struggles of survival.

Lani’s four-year-old particularly enjoyed hang gliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. “He thought he was Buzz Lightyear, running up and down those dunes.” She and her oldest had some valuable one-on-one time while sharing a kayak on the Kitty Hawk Kites Safari River Tour, and she says Adam, who paddled with their middle daughter, was so happy he couldn’t stop singing.

“The people of [the Outer Banks] were so generous, and we were moved by the outpouring of support from the community,” Lani says. She says the experience has given them a newfound affection for the Outer Banks.

Lani says the trip was “restorative,” and we think that’s a pretty high compliment to the businesses who make the Outer Banks a great place to play and a great place to live. And while the battle hasn’t been won yet, doctors tell Lani that her outlook is good. You can learn more about Lani’s journey with cancer on her blog: www.chemobabe.com.