In her 2008 book Postcards and Pearls: Life Lessons from Solo Moments on the Road, author Gina Greenlee noted, “When we establish human connections within the context of shared experience, we create community wherever we go.”
The annual partnership between Jet Linx and The Tutu Project is one that carries special significance to many members of our team – including Gary Cottingham, Base Chief Pilot for Jet Linx Indianapolis, and his wife, Lisa. During the 2018 photoshoot, the company was excited to bring Gary and Lisa together with Bob and Linda Carey, founders of the Tutu movement, to discuss the work of the foundation and the power of shared experience.
Jet Linx and The Tutu Project
Since 2015, Jet Linx team members and friends of Jet Linx (their pets, too!) have donned fluffy pink tutus and posed for the camera to raise money for breast cancer patients – funds The Tutu Project uses to help ease the financial burdens placed on families facing breast cancer.
The Tutu Project got its start when Bob Carey, a fine art photographer, sensed isolation and vulnerability in his wife, Linda, after she received a breast cancer diagnosis. As a form of self-therapy, Bob began photographing himself adorned in only a pink tutu at various unique and whimsical locations. The result? Introspective images with a dash of humor that Linda shared with her friends and medical staff when at treatment. Once alive on social media, they quickly went viral as a humorous diversion from the harsh realities of cancer. Linda and other breast cancer patients from all over the world discovered life and inspiration through Bob’s comical and picturesque creations. The impact of those initial images led Bob and Linda to found The Tutu Project, using Bob’s photography to bring levity to those facing breast cancer, and raising money to assist with the numerous expenses not covered by insurance.
“It is one of the most fun and rewarding charities we participate in,” said Jamie Walker, President & CEO of Jet Linx. “Jet Linx team members, alongside our generous community of clients and friends, proudly wear pink tutus in a bold effort to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer and The Tutu Project. Last year was an incredible success company-wide, as we came together to double the images submitted for our #Dare2Tutu photo match.”
WHAT WE WANT TO DO IS TAKE CARE OF PEOPLE DAY TO DAY – THE REAL-LIFE STUFF.Bob Carey
The original #Dare2Tutu social media campaign launched in 2015 after Bob challenged the world to join him in slipping on a pink tutu, striking a pose, and sharing their creation over social media with the hashtag #Dare2Tutu. The initial campaign raised over $50,000 and received thousands of photos from across the globe, quickly surfacing as a social media phenomenon. Each October since 2015, Jet Linx team members and friends of the company have embraced the #Dare2Tutu challenge. In 2017, the team secured a record-setting year, with 434 photos submitted (a 117% increase over 2016!). The funds from these photo matches were combined with other funds from Base silent auctions of a limited-edition Tutu Project print and individual donations, bringing the 2017 Jet Linx grand total to $17,365 – a 27% increase over the year prior.
In 2017, the Omaha Base took home top honors for number of images submitted. “Jet Linx Omaha was so excited to be a part of The Tutu Project for the third year running!” exclaimed Ashley Allisma, Jet Linx Omaha General Manager. “We were all very motivated to gather as many photos as possible this month – and most importantly – raise awareness to the cause and all of the wonderful things that The Tutu Project does for breast cancer patients. We were so happy to participate in this annual event and feel honored to have won this challenge.”
Jason Brushaber, Jet Linx Flight Coordination Specialist, submitted 64 photos in the last week of the 2017 competition – the most photos submitted by any team member overall! Brushaber’s family connection to a cancer diagnosis is a very real one. “My sister was born with brain cancer,” Brushaber revealed. “She only lived to be eight years old. My family has a strong background with dealing with every day struggles of having a loved one fighting the cancer battle, and we really enjoyed working on this project together. It brought a lot of joy to both of our lives and hopefully our contribution will bring joy to the people benefiting from The Tutu Project.”
“We are very excited to continue working with Jet Linx,” said Linda Carey, co-creator of The Tutu Project & President of the Carey Foundation. “They have been wonderful to work with and they have helped us reach our goals of helping to make the lives and women and men living with breast cancer easier.”
Funds raised from The Tutu Project are thoughtfully designated to like-minded organizations twice per year. “Throughout the year I look for organizations that directly help with the expense of the breast cancer experience,” Linda explained. “There are a lot of organizations that are doing care packages which I think is important because it helped me going through treatment. Plus, Bob and I have learned first-hand that cancer is so expensive.”
Bob agreed, adding, “We know there are people who are passionate and scientists who are using their talents working hard towards a cure, but what we want to do is take care of people day to day – the real-life stuff. Like a single mom with three kids that was just diagnosed and doesn’t know what to do because she has to take eight weeks off work and she’s afraid she won’t have her job when she comes back. To us, those simple things are important.”
Originally diagnosed in 2003, following treatment, Linda was thought to be cured of the disease. She received heartbreaking news in 2006 with a recurrence now classified as metastatic breast cancer (MBC) – the most advanced form of breast cancer. The news, as devastating as it was, led Bob and Linda on a path of experiences shedding light on the real-world, practical everyday support that people touched by breast cancer so desperately need. “It’s almost like a miracle the way these things happen,” Bob shared. “After Linda was re-diagnosed and had to go back to treatment at the cancer center, she made new friends and showed them the images – it helped them.”
“When we first started, we had no idea what we were doing – we just knew we wanted to bring some laughter to cancer patients and their families,” Linda explained. “Each year we get more specific with our goals. It has become less about Bob and I and more about the community we’re building.”
The Tutu Project’s celebrated partners, including CancerCare, a nationally run non-profit that offers counseling, support, education and financial assistance, and For 3 Sisters, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and improving the quality of life for women and men affected by cancer, has enabled the organization to extend their reach and influence while sharing unique resources and support from around the world. “People do follow us from all over the globe so it’s not uncommon for Linda to communicate with people in the middle of the night,” Bob remarked. “They’ll write her and give her their phone number – she will take a call from anyone.”
“We are building our communities, which is very important,” Linda remarked. “I’m doing advocacy work speaking out about metastatic disease and really trying to educate people. Out of all the money raised for breast cancer, only around 7% goes to metastatic disease, which is a shame.”
In 2009, Lisa Cottingham, wife of Jet Linx Indianapolis Base Chief Pilot Gary Cottingham, discovered a lump in her right breast during a self-examination. Requisite testing followed, revealing devastating news – it was cancer. “I had a lumpectomy,” Lisa stated. “But no follow up care – no chemotherapy, no radiation or anything like that. Toward the end of last year, could tell in my body that there was an issue again.”
In January 2017, Lisa returned for additional diagnostic testing, resulting in an official diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer that had spread into her lungs and back. “When I was diagnosed in 2009, I was more angry than anything else… but in 2017, it became so overwhelming so quickly that I was almost in shock emotionally,” Lisa explained. “When I first found out I was fairly calm, but then what happened is that I became unable to breathe because my lung filled up with fluid. It was almost as if I couldn’t do anything but concentrate on getting better and feeling better. I didn’t have a chance to feel emotional or sad or upset until I got the fluid taken care of.”
Relief came after her doctor inserted a catheter in her right lung to drain the massive amount of fluid. In the beginning, she effused a liter of fluid every other day – a somber testament to the size of the tumor. “I spent February dealing with the lung issue – not knowing why my lung was filling up and not knowing what to do about it. Once the catheter was inserted and I was able to finally breathe, I started chemotherapy.”
Preparing the body for chemotherapy treatments is different for every patient as are the side effects. Lisa opted to fast prior to her appointments and maintained an exceptionally healthy diet throughout her chemotherapy treatments. “I had my chemotherapy once a week and would begin my fast six o’clock the night before, depending on when my appointment was scheduled,” she explained. “Then I would feed the body during the infusions – it really worked well for me.”
Faced with choosing an oncologist who embodies similar values and morals can be a daunting endeavor with challenges but for Lisa, the stars aligned. “I felt like I was in good hands with my doctor because of the way I met her, the way she was presented to me, and the things she said to me,” Lisa shared. “When she put me in the hospital a couple weeks after meeting her, she came into see me later that night and said, ‘God sent me in here to tell you He loves you.’ So I knew I was in a good place with her. Working with her just made the chemo and all those types of things easy. Her compassion really makes a difference for me.”
Bob agreed, sharing, “I think that’s important. When Linda was in surgery for eight hours, I was pacing the floor. When her surgeon, who is an amazing woman, walked in, she had tears coming from her eyes because Linda’s prognosis wasn’t very good. She was very empathetic to us. I think it’s important to have the right people and what you believe on the same playing field.”
A Shared Experience
Sitting side-by-side at the Jet Linx Omaha private terminal, Linda and Lisa (with their husbands, Bob and Gary) tackled the tough subject of breast cancer and recurrence like old friends. Both agreed hearing a cancer has returned is earth shattering. “Hearing your cancer came back is so scary,” Linda described. “I think hope is really important and when you have those dark moments, to let yourself have them. Don’t stay in it, but acknowledge that there is a lot of fear. I mean, you heard a doctor say that you might die – those are really startling words to hear. So, hear those words and decide how long you’re going to sit in that place… and then move on from it.”
“One of the things that people would ask me is, ‘What can I do for you?'” Lisa recalled. “If you’re a person of faith, pray for me. I meant it then and I mean it now. Pray for me. I totally believe that is one of the reasons I’m sitting here is because people prayed for me and surrounded me with positive energy.”
Statistically, Lisa and Linda are both miracles who have defied the odds. Linda often refers to herself as a unicorn – a one of a kind patient living life with MBC on her own terms – and refuses to be compared to charts in a computer. “She’s never wanted to know any kind of statistic,” Bob shared. “How long? It’s like, don’t tell me that answer. I don’t need to know that. Just tell me what I need to do, what you think I should do, some coaching and if I don’t think that’s right, I’ll go get some opinions.”
“Actually, when I first met my oncologist, the first thing out of my mouth was that I don’t want to hear statistics,” Linda mentioned. “Ultimately, I don’t think it’s up to the doctor – the doctor can’t tell me when I’m going to go and neither can a chart on a computer.”
Lisa echoed the same sentiments, adding, “I did not have any physicians tell me I was going to die because I let them know up front they were not going to talk to me in those terms.”
Sound advice both women share: be your own advocate, and if you can’t speak up, get someone who can speak up for you. “During this cancer journey, you’re learning a new language, so it’s imperative you understand what your doctors are telling you,” Linda remarked. “Even to deal with your health insurance – it’s just really important to stand up for yourself.”
Lisa pointed to the mission and work of The Tutu Project as a vital resource aiding cancer patients’ immediate needs. “I think research is wonderful, but from a patient’s perspective, I’m diagnosed now. I need something that is going to help me now – not five years in the future, because I don’t know what five years in the future is,” she noted. “What Linda, Bob and The Tutu Project share with breast cancer patients is tangible, and it’s going to help someone now.”
Gary agreed, adding, “The research is important, but it’s not personal. The Tutu Project is doing some wonderful work on a much more personal level – which I think is amazing.”
“I also want to thank the Jet Linx family for helping out during such a difficult time,” Gary stated as he choked back tears. “I was just getting ready to say that,” Lisa followed. “I know during the times it was at its worst it was really, really hard on him and the support he received from the Jet Linx family was just amazing – absolutely amazing. When you’re in the middle of the situation the support of someone else means everything – so thank you for everything. In addition, the fact that the entire company promotes a worthwhile cause like The Tutu Project makes us both very proud.”
Bob and his pink tutu have spread countless smiles and become a symbol for breast cancer awareness and hope. Jet Linx remains proud of our team members and friends for honoring and embracing The Tutu Project movement. Join us this October to #Dare2Tutu!