A non-profit organization that provides free travel

(CNN) — When their sister Maria passed away from breast cancer in 2019, Alicia and Esther Tambe were determined to honor her in a way that truly embodied the person she was.

When they started researching, the couple quickly learned that there was a family history of breast cancer and that black women were disproportionately affected by the disease. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, the death rate from breast cancer is 41% higher in black women than in white women.

The more they researched, the more they tried to find a way to help black women living with breast cancer, as well as breast cancer survivors, while incorporating one of their late sister’s greatest passions—travel.

In August 2020, they founded Fight Through Flights, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the healing of Black women with breast cancer and breast cancer survivors by providing free wellness retreats, travel and access to mental health resources. nutrition and physical fitness.
“We don’t know everything about breast cancer,” Alicia Tambe, a lawyer and founder of Luxe A Travels, told CNN Travel. “But we know what made Maria happy and how she coped with different things.”

Support healing

Esther and Alicia Tambe in Lisbon, Portugal, with their sister Maria (far right), who died of breast cancer in 2019.

Courtesy of Esther Tambe

Describing their sister as a “frequent flyer”, Alicia and Esther Tambe say being able to get on a plane and visit new places, as well as attending regular Zumba classes, has been instrumental in keeping her in good spirits.

Over the years, the trio often traveled together, visiting places in European countries such as Portugal, and these remain some of their most treasured memories of Maria.

“It’s something we loved doing together and something we thought we’d do for the rest of our lives,” says Alicia Tambe.

Fight Through Flights was launched during the Covid-19 pandemic, so the couple had to get creative when planning their first retreats, as “it was dangerous for everyone to go there together”.

They decided to focus on individual programs, creating Staycation Serenity, which gives those who can’t or don’t feel comfortable leaving their homes, a vacation-style break, and Roadtrip to Recovery, where women have the option to “ride or be driven somewhere close to home , but far enough away to escape the daily routine.”

The programs, which include virtual therapy sessions, personal training and nutrition sessions, aim to provide a break from the daily stress of the illness and “an opportunity to just heal and get away from it all.”

“We see it as a way to escape, a way to rejuvenate and re-energize,” says Esther Tambe, a registered dietitian.

“For people who traveled before their breast cancer diagnosis, it’s a reminder to keep doing the things that bring them joy, and for others, it’s a way to open up new hopes for joy and new experiences in their lives during their diagnosis.”

Alicia and Esther Tambe say they made the decision early on to include breast cancer survivors so they too could “feel festive.”

Binding experience

“Sometimes you don’t get to celebrate your milestones,” says Alicia Tambe. “You can go for survival, but you’re always living in ‘what if’ or ‘what if it comes back.’

“And I think that’s the hardest adjustment to get back into a normal routine. Despite this, you are a new person. It’s just very important to explore a new self.”

It’s also a chance for survivors to tell their stories “and just keep the information and hope flowing,” says Esther Tambe.

In 2021, Dr. Alexia Gaffney Adams, a breast cancer survivor, attended the Fight Through Flights Family Leadership Conference open to Black women breast cancer leaders in Belize.

Adams, who underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation since her diagnosis in 2018, decided to apply after seeing the program online.

“I had big plans in my personal life to start traveling more before I got sick,” she tells CNN Travel. “And the pandemic immediately followed that, so travel was not feasible for me.”

For Adams, the trip to Belize was not just an opportunity to travel again, but an opportunity to connect with other black women who have been through or are going through similar experiences.

In 2020, Esther and Alicia founded the non-profit organization Fight Through Flights.

In 2020, Esther and Alicia founded the non-profit organization Fight Through Flights.

Photo by Dotun Ayodeji

“When you have breast cancer, it seems like it affects everything,” she says. “So we talked about dating and relationships. Conversations you can’t have with someone who hasn’t had that experience.”

She explains that being able to take time for yourself without feeling like “it’s taking away from something else” feels like a huge gift.

“I could travel guilt-free,” adds Adams. “I was able to rest, re-energise, re-energize and heal without being a burden on my family or household.”

When they weren’t getting massages, meditating, hiking, swimming with sharks, snorkeling, and morning yoga, the group of women worked together to brainstorm ideas for future Fight Through Flights retreats.

“It was everything I needed and more,” she says. “So I’m grateful that I got to experience that and continue to work with Fight Through Flights.”

Adams emphasizes that her treatment is ongoing – she is currently undergoing hormone therapy and also receives monthly injections to reduce the risk of relapse.

“People think that just because you’re done with chemo and radiation and your hair grows back, you’re done, and you’re not,” she says. “The battle is really just beginning.”

After returning from her trip to Belize, she kept in touch with the other women who participated and is grateful to have been able to build such strong bonds with women with similar experiences.

More than 75 women have participated in Fight Through Flights’ app-based programs, according to Alicia and Esther Tambe, who say they are looking to expand and add even more programs to their roster.

The programs are primarily donor-funded, although Fight Through Flights has received grants from organizations such as the Black Travel Alliance.

Making new memories

According to Esther and Alicia, the prospect of travel and adventure helped keep their sister upbeat.

According to Esther and Alicia, the prospect of travel and adventure helped keep their sister upbeat.

Photo by Dotun Ayodeji

“We’re just so grateful because it could happen to anyone,” says Alicia Tambe. “And just watching everyone deal with breast cancer in their lives was just amazing.

“We just came out of our shelter and we all really left with the sisterhood.”

Both say they learned a lot from the people they met at the organization, and being able to talk to these women about their experiences with breast cancer helped them navigate the grieving process.

“We see parts of it [Maria] through many women—they share some of the same interests,” says Esther Tambe.

“And just being able to know that through it all we were still able to connect and help others heal on their journey was a very rewarding experience.”

In the three years since Maria’s death, Alicia and Esther Tambe have continued to travel with the rest of their family, and recently visited Grenada and El Salvador.

Although the dynamic is clearly different now, they cherish their memories of their sister and are extremely grateful for the opportunity to embark on new adventures and travels together.

“We just really appreciate the time on the road,” says Alicia Tambe. – There are moments when you think: “If Maria was here, she would like it.”

“But I think it’s just about making new memories and where life takes you.”

Top Image: Courtesy of Alec Adam Zull

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