Flight Log

Resources and Stories from Angel Flight West.

Fighting Cancer from the Air: Volunteer Pilots Make a Difference

Volunteer Pilots with Angel Flight West make a difference each day. Because of their generosity of time and resources, more patients with critical illnesses, like cancer, are able to access medical treatment.

As a retired United Airlines captain, and as the personal owner of two Cirrus aircraft, Tom is quick to recognize he’s lived something of a charmed life.

“I’ve been gifted with many advantages,” he said. “[Thanks to my career], I’ve gotten to meet a lot of interesting people….People who are making a difference in the world, and my skillset can help.”

In 2007, Tom’s hunger to make a difference during retirement drew him to Angel Flight West — and to the special satisfaction that can be found in transporting passengers in need. His resolute attention to detail, born out of nearly 50 years in professional aviation, soon found a natural home at AFW.

“I’m cautious about weather,” Tom said. “More cautious than those with a tenth of my flight time.”

Tom’s commitment to caution and care has helped him forge a fast friendship with Pamela, a registered nurse who Tom notes “has it in her nature to care more about other people than [about] herself. She always wants to know what’s going on with me.”

Mission Assistant Paul Passenger Pamela and Command Pilot Tom on one of their treasured flights together to medical treatment

But it’s what’s going on with Pamela that sometimes weighs heavily on Tom’s mind — metastatic cancer means this nurturing, professional caretaker has herself been a patient for six years and regularly relies on expert medical care.

On ten separate flights and counting, Tom has taken up the charge to provide medical transportation to Pamela, as they journey to and from her home in Palmdale and treatment at Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center. It’s a voyage that, by car, would be an eight-hour round trip. There is no limit to the number of flights you can request with Angel Flight West.

“Without Angel Flight West, I don’t know how I would be able to continue with this chemotherapy,” Pamela said. “Most of the time, I’m exhausted.”

Although her air travel experience had been very limited before linking with Angel Flight West, Pamela says her nervousness quickly lessened under Tom’s wing. She’s even learned quite a bit on their trips together, and is fully comfortable bringing her daughters, son, and cousin along for the rides.

“Tom goes through a whole slew of safety stuff with you, every time,” Pamela said. “He takes into consideration weather, news, air traffic control. He’s very cautious. He tells me why we’re going above or below clouds, and why it will feel bumpy….Sometimes I want to fall asleep, but I’m too curious. That’s the adrenaline you get when you’re flying with Tom.”

Tom gets his own jolt of adrenaline from his passenger, too. “Pamela gifts us all with a delicate but indomitable spirit,” he says. “What an honor to share the same air she breathes.”

As chemotherapy first began to steal away Pamela’s blonde hair, she found an additional level of unexpected kinship with her trusted pilot, Tom. Now, they rub each other’s bald heads for luck as they set off on their adventures.

“Tom makes you feel comfortable,” Pamela says. “He doesn’t judge, and we crack jokes. He doesn’t see me as a patient. He sees me as me.”

Article by David Radcliff

Written by:

Share this Article:

Subscribe to get our best content in your inbox