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Forty-Eight States, One Message

By Hal Bryan and Megan Esau

August 20, 2015 - “You don’t have to quit livin’, even if you’re dyin’.” 

That’s Jim Davis’ motto. Davis, EAA 596830, from Mountain Home, Arkansas, completed his Cancer Awareness flight to each of the 48 contiguous states when he arrived in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on August 30. As a cancer survivor himself, Jim flew a special mission in his Savannah S, an LSA he calls Purple Passion: to prove there’s life after cancer, give flights to cancer patients and survivors across the country, and raise awareness about early detection.

“Early detection is vital. Don’t wait until you’re in pain,” Davis said. And he knows what he’s talking about: over the last several years, he’s faced down cancer multiple times. First, there was the skin cancer that led to surgery that, as he put it, “…took three-quarters of an inch off my smile.” From there, it ran a dreadful gamut from his prostate, to both lungs, a lymph node, and then his liver. A doctor recently gave him just nine months to live.

That was eight months ago.

When he heard that news, the 74-year-old Davis asked himself, “What will people remember about Jim Davis?” and that’s when he decided to set out on his flight. He packed up Purple Passion and set off for the east coast, determined to see the country on four gallons per hour and 75 knots.

As he traveled, he relied on the generosity of EAA chapters at each stop. In many cases, chapters would provide him a hangar, a place to stay, a good meal, and local transportation. “I owe a lot of thank yous to people all over the country,” Davis said with a smile that still looks 100 percent complete.

Davis flew the first 27 states on his list but hit a bump in his plans in June due to dehydration and a kidney infection. After a brief respite, he was back in the air in early July. Wherever possible, he’s tried to share his message—and his love of flight—with cancer patients at each stop around the country. He’s given dozens of airplane rides, but two really stand out in his memory.

The first was Natalie, a 14-year-old girl in Mississippi diagnosed with brain cancer. She was so weak, so tired from her treatment regimen that her mother had to all but carry her to the airplane. She started smiling as soon as they left the ground, and once they’d landed and shut down, she hopped out of the airplane on her own and ran around and gave Davis a big hug.

The other flight Davis especially cherishes was for another young lady, a 9-year-old in Kansas named Sheridan. Her doctors had told her family that they’d done all they could. Before their flight, Davis told her “You’re not a bag of groceries – God didn’t stamp an expiration date on you!” and off they went. He thought she was nervous during the flight as she wasn’t saying much, but it turned out that her voice was just too soft for him to hear reliably over the intercom. As soon as they shut down she said, “Mr. Jim, can we go again?!?” She got her second flight from the local EAA chapter president later that day.

While weather led him to an unplanned stop in Cumberland, Wisconsin, where he stumbled into a fly-in and spent the day flying Young Eagles, Davis considers Oshkosh the real culmination of his flight. “I’ve been a member for years,” he said, “and it just seemed like a good finale.” Looking back on his remarkable journey, he reflected, “If I save one life, or encourage even one person, it’s all worth it.”

While a visit to a doctor in June showed no sign of his most recent cancer, his prognosis remains uncertain at best. Davis can’t see the future any better than the rest of us, but he’ll certainly do a better job of living the rest of his life than most of us.

Davis chronicled his cross-country trip on his blog and on his Facebook.
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