Hurtling to earth at 200kmh is not even close to being the scariest thing Queenstowner Shawn Barron faced this year.
The trainee primary school teacher was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer last August at just 28 years old.
Barron underwent surgery to remove the tumour and then had both breasts removed as a preventative measure in February.
Now she’s celebrated beating the deadly illness – with a heart-pumping, life-affirming skydive on the eve of Breast Cancer Month.
“It was overwhelming, incredible,” a flushed Barron says after the 4570m dive.
“I’m terrified of heights. I’m much better than I used to be and was telling myself it was sweet.
“Then I got to the open door of the plane and it was like ‘ah, no, still afraid of heights’.”
The American, now 29 and living in Queenstown for seven years, tandem skydived in a special pink jumpsuit/onesie with resort skydive firm NZONE.
It has pledged to donate $5 to the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation for every customer who tackles a skydive in pink this month.
Barron, who works at Lake Hayes Estate’s Little Rock pre-school, wants to encourage young women to self-check themselves for cancer signs.
“I tell my friends ‘have a grope, have a feel’,” she says, “because at this age the only thing that can save your life is you.
“There are systems in place for screening over 40s and over 30s with family history, but nothing for my age.
“I didn’t check regularly – I found it by accident and it was just luck.
“Nobody I know did either. We talked about it but it was ‘how do you even do that, how do you check?’”
After a lumpectomy and bilateral mastectomy, Barron is receiving hormone therapy but managed to avoid chemo and radiotherapy.
Barron hopes her openness will help others.
More than 600 women die of breast cancer each year and on average 2800 are diagnosed.
“It was horrifically shocking for me – so out of the blue.
“You hear the word and it’s so terrifying for a long time. You don’t know how bad it is [until results come back].
That’s another reason why I talk about it quite a lot.
“It’s not easy but it takes the stigma away, takes some of its power away,” Barron says.
Actress Angelina Jolie underwent a preventative bilateral mastectomy in the same month as Barron.
“People actually gave her shit about it but it made me feel way better about myself,” Barron says.
“I was ‘ok, feel a little less like a freak’. That was when I started talking about it a bit more as well,” she adds.
“I want to encourage everyone to talk about it, be aware about it and know how to look after themselves.
“One of the reasons why women who get breast cancer at a younger age have higher death rates is because they’re diagnosed later,” Barron says.
“I’m super lucky to still be here and this [skydive] was a good celebration of that.”