Leap of Faith: Mane Support, UT become partners in cancer care
By Melanie Tucker | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
An event on Sunday will test the courage of some local fund-raising individuals who see that jumping from an airplane can be a lot like taking on cancer.
Kim Henry, founder and executive director for Mane Support in Blount County, will be one of those taking on her first skydiving challenge, which is being called Skydive to Survive. Her nonprofit that uses horses to help children through adults cope with the death of a loved one, has teamed up with the University of Tennessee Medical Center’s UThrive 2 Survive committee on this test of courage. Henry will be one of 14 jumpers, ranging in age from 21 to 78.
Building a network
Through this long-term partnership, Mane Support will become a resource for UT as it administers to families faced with cancer. Mane Support has two groups designed with these families in mind: Triple C Ranch for children, adults and their families who are facing cancer and Trail Makers, for breast cancer survivors of all ages.
Skydiving has been on Henry’s bucket list for a while, so she’s grateful for this opportunity. When she heard Thad Cox, a UThrive 2 Survive cochair explain the analogies between conquering cancer and a fear of jumping from a plane, it made perfect sense.
“He was talking about how he would feel if a doctor told him ‘you have cancer,’” Henry said. “He said he couldn’t think of anything more scary. Then he began to talk about the metaphors. “When you go up in that airplane and look down — are you going to take that leap or crawl in a hole?,” Henry said Cox explained. “When you are falling and the parachute opens, that’s the team of doctors and the people around you, holding you up.”
“That made up my mind to do it,” Henry said.
Cox said there are seven males and seven female skydivers expected at the Sunday jump. One is a 78-year-old cancer survivor who will be taking the plunge with her son and granddaughter, Cox said. He plans to be the first one to make the leap from the plane.
“This will be the first jump for most of us,” he explained. Each has been asked to solicit donations that will benefit the UT Cancer Institute.
Fun events like the skydiving challenge will hopefully be a way to draw in a younger generation of community servants who want to make a difference, Cox explained.
Henry started Mane Support back in 2005 and its services have expanded over the years. One of the most recent additions is Family Night, where each Tuesday, families dealing with the loss of a loved one can gather for a meal and them break up into groups for more social time, equine events and sharing. It’s an ongoing group that doesn’t put healing on a schedule.
“This group doesn’t have an ending point like a six-week or eight-week program because grief is ongoing,” Henry explained. “I have always said that grief is a process, not an event. That didn’t seem to fit a six-week time line. That wasn’t cutting it on so many levels. By making this ongoing, we hope to be able to provide better services to the whole family.”
Three weeks into it, Henry said she is already learning from these families seeking her help. Parents demonstrate such courage and strength and so do the children as they strive to help their parents. Both sometimes don’t want to demonstrate their true feelings until they get into a group setting. “We are hoping this provides an arena for them to be themselves, to know that they aren’t alone.”
Sarah Boyd is volunteer coordinator for Mane Support, a volunteer at first who saw what can be accomplished through this ministry that uses horses.
A connection is made
“The horses are amazing,” she said. “When you get close to them, they pick up on your feelings. They communicate in a way that makes it very peaceful. The smell of the barn and being somewhere different — that whole experience.”
There is no horse riding involved. All of the interaction with the animals is done with both feet on the ground.
Boyd has recruited several volunteers recently but said there is always room for more. Mane Support uses them to clean the barns, groom the horses, answer the phone, help with fundraising events and attend volunteer fairs. Youth under the age of 16 must have an adult involved as well. Training is provided.
Henry said she can’t wait to meet her fellow sky jumpers on Sunday and is hoping the weather holds up. She will be jumping with a family that is battling cancer like many of the others.
“I look forward to meeting all of them because their stories are so incredible,” Henry said. “What they have been through is their true story of jumping out of an airplane.”