I am often asked how I got into flying. Looking back, it is a series of unrelated events and circumstances that organized and arranged themselves into my passion and profession. You have likely never heard of Ioannina. It is a small city, nestled between mountains referred to as the emeralds of Greece, where I was born. We flew to the United States on a B-747 when I was 4. My parents say that is where I got the flying bug. Through the years we would make our semi annual trip to Greece from Chicago, where I lived the movie My Big Fat Greek wedding. During those flights my joy was to go to the cockpit, sit, observe, look out the window, and eventually ask millions of questions to very patient Captains and First Officers.
I was asked to do a speech on a profession in middle school. My mother drove me out to the local airport and I interviewed a flight instructor. The interview ran long as he had a student waiting for a lesson. He said why don’t you come with and we can finish up in the air. It was better than a lottery ticket, there was nothing better anyone could have said to me at that moment. I jumped in and the rest of my career has been a series of jumps!
There was plenty of opposition, questioning, doubt and frustration along the road. Picture Nia Vardalos telling her dad she wanted to become a pilot..I was very Lucky my mother was the neck. As you can imagine the would be suitors often asked; You fly airplanes? Why? When are you going to stop? Now it makes me laugh out loud, back then it solidified my resolve. I was actively seeking out mentors in the aviation business, they were few and far between. I asked an airline pilot about the job when I was in High School, he responded with “Why don’t you just become a flight attendant and forget about it.” Somebody along the way actually said “You can’t do that.” I wonder if I did it just to prove them wrong.
My parents were an incredible support system, once I proved my seriousness. I worked in the restaurant (yes Greek) and saved up enough money for my first license, my private. Prior to that my father’s quote was “We are Greek, we do not do these things.” He became my first passenger in a little 2 seat Cessna 152 and has been my champion ever since. The University of North Dakota is often named the best Aviation School in the country. That is where I set my sights, I got in and went for a visit. It was beautiful in the spring; the Coolie runs through the Ivy league looking campus. I thought; I’m from Chicago how COLD could it be? One of the silliest things I’ve ever thought. Luckily It seemed I was there for 5 minutes before I met the love of my life. Jay was a pre-med major, till he switched to aviation! He graduated a year before I did, and we got married after my graduation. We embarked on this adventure together, chasing careers and flying jobs around the globe.
I started flying in 1986, in 1997 I had finally made it to the majors! Continental called and offered me a position, we were thrilled- finally we would be able to live and fly out of the same place! Jay had been hired two years earlier. The training and indoctrination regimen was 8 weeks, one of the first orders of business was get your aircraft assignment and base. All of this is done in seniority order based on age, that is how I ended up on Guam. I literally had to get out the map, all I knew is that it was in the Pacific.
We settled in New Jersey after a while then I began hearing the proverbial clock tic for children. We were blessed with three beautiful souls to take care of and love. They got passports so young we had to hold one of their heads up for the photo. Happily, they were infected with wanderlust and joined us on many adventures around the world.
Many years of doing incredible line flying led to being noticed by supervisors and being invited to teach in the simulator facility in Houston. We tried staying in NJ and commuting to Houston but it put unwanted strain on a very busy household. We moved to Houston in the summer of 2012. The merger happened shortly thereafter and I was recruited to help the Change Management team with the integration. From there an opportunity came up for me to serve as Assistant Chief Pilot in Houston, our second largest hub. This position was very rewarding and suited me very well. Life was humming right along, the boys were doing their thing with school, turning into fine young men, friends, sports, music and mac-n-cheese Fridays was our life. Jay was asked to take on more responsibility in training and standards, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, then everything was still…..absolutely still.
Um Doctor, “You did not read the script, this is the part where you tell me the lump is nothing, pat me on the head and say see ya in five years”
Instead I heard all these other words. Biopsy, dense breast tissue, 4cm plus another. Need an MRI, Invasive ductal carcinoma, we do not need the biopsy to know.
You have Breast cancer.
Looking back, I already knew at that point, from how many nurses came into the room for the mammogram, then straight in for the ultrasound. Whispering… in and out radiologist, radio oncologist, technician. It was a revolving door. None of this happened during my other mammograms.
How am I going to tell my children, my husband, my parents, my brothers? What about flying? The very foundation, which I thought was grounded in bedrock shifted. I pressed pause.
Next came an education in something I never wanted to learn about. Doctors, surgeons, oncologists, books, the internet, other women and their stories. So much information, was buzzing around me. People came out of the woodwork for support.
It was going to be known as the lost year. Instead it is now known as the Kellogg years.
The decision to go back to school for my MBA was not one I took lightly; did I want to spend my precious time away from my family? I did not. Would I get closer to the person I’m supposed to become? Yes. Would this make me a better mother, stronger woman, perhaps an inspiration to someone out there? Yes.
I looked at my cancer regimen as a pilot checklist:
20 rounds of chemo……………………..………..check
6 Weeks of radiation……………………..……….check
Physical therapy 3 Times a week…………….check
Each day was a small victory; each check was a battle won in this war and would be won because there has never been anyone with a better support system.
Although I would never wish this upon anyone, I would not change a thing.
Captain Evey Cormican, Our Breast Cancer Advocate speaks about her Breast Cancer Journey and the importance of Self Breast Exam.