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A Lesson in Courage

Jackie Pflug’s inspirational story of surviving a terrorist attack and colon cancer

by Laura Shipp

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Jackie Pflug

On November 24, 1985, Jackie Pflug’s life was changed forever. When she woke up that morning, little did she know that a weekend trip to Greece for a high school volleyball tournament would put her in the middle of a deadly terrorist attack. Jackie was a passenger on Egypt Air Flight 648. Her plane was hijacked just ten minutes into the flight. The hijackers soon began shooting hostages and threatened to continue until their demands were met. Jackie was shot execution-style in the head and left for dead on the tarmac.

Fifty-nine of the 90 passengers on board that flight died during the crisis. But Jackie lived.

A miraculous survivor, Jackie had to fight for her life once again when she was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2003. She recently shared her incredible story with Coping® magazine.

Cancer was my second wake-up call. Most people only need one.

When you were diagnosed with cancer, what was your immediate reaction? You had been through so much already.
I was stunned. After the hijacking, I lived my life thinking that nothing really challenging could come across my path. I had already lived through such tragedy that nothing could come close. Finding out I had cancer brought me to my knees. By this time, I had a four-year-old child. It felt like I had more to lose this time.

How was recovering from cancer different than your recovery from your brain injury?
For a brain injury, I believe, recovery spans over a lifetime. I am still healing from that, emotionally and physically. It never goes away. My cancer diagnosis made me realize that I don’t have an option to live life haphazardly. Twenty years after the hijacking, I started seeing myself go back to old, unwanted habits. Habits such as sweating the small stuff, making myself as busy as possible, and not paying attention to what’s important in life. Cancer was my second wake-up call. Most people only need one. I, however, needed a second one.

Did your experience in surviving the hijacking help you with your cancer battle?
Very much so. It gave me confidence that I could get through this.

How has having cancer changed your life?
It confirmed for me that the valuable lessons learned from getting whooped upside the head with a bullet are more important than ever. Lessons of living with integrity, always telling the truth, keeping promises and commitments, listening to my heart and acting on it, giving thanks for what I have and who I am, surrounding myself with supporting people, accepting and loving others just as they are, and living in the moment.

You’ve survived so much. Does anything scare you anymore?
I still can get scared now and then, but I recover more quickly. I don’t stay in the fear very long.

You often talk about courage. What does that word mean to you?
For me, courage means the ability to show up, to face the fight, to never give up, to enjoy the journey.

What words of wisdom do you have for others facing cancer?
Don’t be afraid to feel the feelings. The crying will eventually stop. I thought that once I started to cry, I wouldn’t be able to stop, but I was wrong. Have hope that you can survive this.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

For more of Jackie’s story, or to book her for a speaking engagement, visit her website, JackiePflug.com.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2010.