Hero gran with cancer conquers fear of heights for skydive

Jackie with staff at Maggie's Centre
Jackie with staff at Maggie's Centre
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A SCOTTISH gran who so terrified of heights that going to the top floor of her house was traumatic, has conquered her fears to tackle a 10,000ft skydive after being diagnosed with cancer.

Since being diagnosed with cancer five years ago, 47-year-old Jackie Armstrong, from Lockerbie, has completed a skydive and flown three times over the River Nith on a zip wire.

Jackie Armstrong

Jackie Armstrong

In the process she has raised nearly £50,000 for charity.

Jackie’s outlook changed after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Before I had cancer I was so petrified of heights I couldn’t even go into my attic, but I had always wanted to do a skydive. After my treatment, I thought I really want to do this. You don’t have the same fears anymore after cancer treatment so I decided to go for it.”

“I wasn’t nervous at all going up in the plane. Everything I’d been through had put things into perspective. My family thought I was crazy and I wouldn’t do it, so I thought I’d prove them wrong!”

Everything I’d been through had put things into perspective. My family thought I was crazy and I wouldn’t do it, so I thought I’d prove them wrong

Jackie Armstrong

To her own and her family’s surprise, Jackie now describes herself as having “an adrenalin streak”. She has already taken part in a fire-walk and says that she would ultimately love to try wing-walking.

“Skydiving was just amazing. I felt like a bird in the sky looking down on the scenery. It made me feel in control. That’s part of why I do fundraising too, it’s a part of my life I can control.”

When she found out she had cancer, Jackie said she felt numb unable to take in what was happening.

While she was able to have chemotherapy close to home, she travelled to Edinburgh to have radiotherapy, staying in patients’ accommodation at the Western General Infirmary.

“I was quite low, though I didn’t realise it, and one of the nurses suggested going to Maggie’s Edinburgh if I felt the need to talk. At first I thought, I don’t need that, it’ll just be another room in the hospital. But then I went along to Maggie’s with one of the other women having treatment.

“I was greeted by a volunteer and I just burst into tears. He got Andy, the centre head, who talked to me and let me realise that there is life after cancer.

READ MORE - Laura Lee: How Maggie’s centres can help

“The centre is such a calm, bright environment, not what I expected at all, it makes you feel so much more relaxed. I didn’t feel scared to cry if I needed to because everyone there is in the same boat. I started to go to Maggie’s regularly, talked often to Andy, and took part in relaxation and nutrition classes.”

Once her treatment was finished, and with newfound confidence, Jackie set about raising funds for Maggie’s, which relies entirely on voluntary donations.

Keen to help the charity to keep on offering the free practical, emotional and social support that she had found so useful, she set herself a target of £5000.

“I made almost that with the skydive, so then I thought I would aim for £10,000. Every time I’ve nearly reach my target, I push it up a bit higher,” Jackie said.

Jackie organised her first sponsored zip wire event in Dumfries in 2013, signing up 140 people to whiz 800ft across the River Nith, 100 ft above the water. Jackie crossed first and last, making the journey twice.

When her cancer came back last year, at first, Jackie says, she could not face the thought of going through chemotherapy again, even though her first grandchild was on the way.

“It was so hard, thinking of going through all the side effects again. But now my granddaughter Ellie is 10 months old and has just started walking. When I look at her, I’m so pleased I went through with the treatment.”

For more stories of Scotland’s charity heroes - visit Scotsman Giving Back

Since Ellie’s arrival, Jackie has split her time between helping to look after her and continuing to fundraise for Maggie’s.

Last year, she organised a ball for 150 people and a second zip wire flight, getting another 114 people involved.

Andy Anderson, Centre Head at Maggie’s Edinburgh, said: “Jackie has been and is an inspiration to all of us at Maggie’s.

“Her dedication and commitment to supporting us to support others, whilst still dealing with her own diagnosis, are remarkable.

“She has enthused and energised hundreds of people around her to get active and raise money and awareness of Maggie’s. Her support continues to be invaluable for Maggie’s Edinburgh.”

Jackie’s next big event will be a Queen tribute night for 380 people at Easterbrook Hall in Dumfries in August, though she is also thinking about creating a vintage car rally and a 50s night. “I love dreaming up ideas. I can’t imagine my life without fundraising now, and it has been a great way to meet people and make new friends,” she said.

“I used to be such a nervous person, I was afraid to do the things I wanted to do. I was quite daunted about raising that first £5000, but you can do it if you put your mind to it.

“Now, I’d love to raise £100,000. So, I’m going to take it one step at a time.”

Tickets for Jackie’s Queen tribute night cost £30 including dinner. For more information contact Maggie’s Edinburgh: Edinburgh@maggiescentres.org

For more information about Maggie’s go to www.maggiescentres.org

Stories of strength, support and surprise on Maggie’s Podcast

Maggie’s has launched the first Maggie’s Podcast, one in a series about living well with cancer.

Titled All Together Now, the first podcast is presented by broadcaster Victoria Derbyshire who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.

Exploring the feelings of isolation and loneliness that a cancer diagnosis can bring, Victoria talks with Maggie’s Centre visitors about some of the creative ways they have found to counteract those feelings.

Future Maggie’s Podcasts will cover men and cancer, nutrition and family and therapeutic gardening.

All Together Now is available to download from the Maggie’s website: www.maggiescentres.org/podcast