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My Yinglinity/The Sanderson Factor, or Why I Jumped Off a Bridge

May 10, 2014

My mom loves to tell a story about a trip to the dentist when I was a very young child, maybe three years old. I had cavities in all of my molars and needed fillings. Before beginning to drill, I of course was given some sort of anesthesia that should have knocked me out, especially given how tiny I was. But I refused to fall asleep. My mom could hear my screams in the waiting room; a nurse emerged to assure her that although I remained inexplicably awake after receiving the maximum drug dosage, I was not in any pain. When the dentist finished, a nurse carried me – calmer, very drugged, but still awake – out to the reception area. While I introduced myself to anyone who’d listen, the nurse told my mom, “This child has a will of steel.” As soon as I was safely in Mom’s arms, I finally passed out.

For better or worse, I’ve always done things on my own terms. My determination and fierce sense of independence come from both sides of my family: Yinglings are always right, and Sandersons are never wrong – my dad has even argued with friends of mine over the pronunciation of their own names. And since we know everything, we don’t need help. Ever. This attitude went into overdrive after my diagnosis – No, I didn’t need company at routine clinic or chemotherapy appointments. Yes, I was fine. Sure, I could take the bus to chemo.

But cancer has worn me out, and I’ve managed to tone this down (a bit). When someone loaned me a car to get to treatments, I accepted (but then promptly broke my right foot and couldn’t drive…and when the foot finally healed and the car was once again offered, I decided to buy my own). After my last surgery, I agreed to let people bring me food twice a week. And when my friends admitted that they were scheming to sneak into my house and put together the huge new Ikea wardrobe I’d purchased that I was secretly planning to assemble on my own (which was a stupid and impossible idea), I let them in through the front door.

Still, while learning to accept help has made things easier for me in the years since my diagnosis, the will of steel remains, and has also served me well – anyone who has gone through any medical ordeal will tell you that it is imperative that you be your own advocate. For instance, when excruciating pain while swallowing precluded me from eating (and my doctors assumed reflux and wanted to give me an acid blocker and send me on my way), my insistence on an endoscopy found a 10-centimeter stretch of ugly ulcers in my esophagus, resulting in a several-day hospital stay.

And then sometimes, this will of mine gets me in over my head. I went to Zambia with my friend Casey for New Year’s, and after several days on a lovely safari with friends of his, they sent us off to Livingstone to see Victoria Falls. I’d largely ignored the pages dedicated in my guidebook to all the activities there for thrill-seekers, but as we packed for the flight from Lusaka, Casey, doing his research for the first time, decided that we should do a tandem bungee jump – and somehow talked me into it, saying that he’d never do it on his own, but that it wouldn’t be so bad if we jumped together. Heights don’t bother me, but I am terrified of edges. I have never wanted to bungee jump. Ever.

But I’d agreed, and that was that. When it was time, we walked over to the Victoria Falls Bridge that connects Zimbabwe and Zambia. We had to stop to register at an overlook on the Zambian side – while we waited, I was careful not to look out to the bridge or down to the gorge below. When it was our turn, the man told us that they did not offer tandem jumps anymore. Of course, our agreement was premised on the understanding that we could jump together. But now we were at the bridge, and neither of us was going to be the one who backed out. So I told the man we’d jump separately, and they weighed us, showed us where to sign, and took our money.

After taking a shot (of course there was a bar at the registration office/overlook), we walked out onto the bridge. Thankfully, there was no line, which meant no extra time to mull over this horrible decision. I asked to go first, fearing I’d back out if I had to watch Casey jump before me. The bungee technicians helped me down to the platform to wrap my shins in towels and put me in a body harness while I asked questions about everything they did. Finally, it was time. Since my feet were tied together, they told me to hop over to the edge (an instruction I ignored, instead using baby steps to get there). After a pep talk about how I was 100% safe and just had to focus on the horizon, I made it to the edge, they counted down, and I jumped. As expected, I hated it. But I blame my parents – this resolve is genetic.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Deb H permalink
    May 11, 2014 7:35 am

    NEVER in a million years! You got to experience the falls in a way not many do! I so envy your writing ability and style! By the way, Uncle Gil also pronounces names the way he wants to.Or even decides they should be called by his choice of nickname. Gotta love our family(s).

  2. Katie permalink
    May 11, 2014 4:26 pm

    oh my god… ! you rock, rachel. great post.

  3. May 12, 2014 8:46 am

    You are amazing love the story!!!!!

  4. Allison Whitt permalink
    June 13, 2014 3:09 pm

    You are incredible! We’ll all be thinking of you on Ground Bles during your surgery and recovery period. If you can do that, you can do anything!

  5. Steve Richardson permalink
    May 6, 2015 4:53 pm

    Hi, Rachel. I am so glad I saw you last week. A month or so ago, I learned about this site from Aquila after sharing my plans for a trip to SA and VF this September – including a jump off the bridge. My wife thought I was nuts but now I can point to you as an example of what it means to live while you can and face your own fear. Thanks and God bless!

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