A life in flight leads to a life of giving back

A life in flight leads to a life of giving back

Mike Sisemore has been flying off and on for nearly 50 years. The thrill of adventure calls to him with a loud voice. Whether it’s camping in remote areas or skydiving, Mike loves where a small aircraft can take him. He has owned and flown planes for decades, and they’re an important part of life for him and his wife, Pat.

[Above: Pat and Mike Sisemore (foreground) seem to bring a smile to each of their Angel Flight passengers.]

The value of a private plane took on whole new meaning, though, when Pat was diagnosed with breast cancer a little over ten years ago. She has since recovered, but when Mike learned about Angel Flight, he knew that from this point forward he would spend some of his flight time helping others with cancer to reach their treatments. Mike and Pat—who also has her pilot’s license—began flying together for Angel Flight South Central in 2008. 

Then they received more difficult news: on the way home from a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mike began to feel sick. Pat looked down Mike’s throat with a flashlight and saw something there. A doctor’s visit shortly after confirmed that it was cancer. Mike underwent two months of daily radiation plus chemo. Not long after, he also had to have some skin cancer growths removed. Each time Mike has gone through treatment, he has had to stop flying for Angel Flight temporarily, but he has always beaten cancer, and he always comes back to flying.

You can see Mike and Pat’s irrepressibility in the photos they take on their missions. Pat holds the camera – she’s the one who makes sure the passengers are comfortable and explains all the safety procedures and quirks of flying on a small plane. “Not everybody likes light airplanes,” says Mike, “so it’s a matter of really making people comfortable. My wife is really good at that.”

[Above: Pat and Mike’s dog, Manning, goes everywhere with them. The Sisemores adopted Manning after transporting him on a Pilots n Paws flight. Pilots n Paws’ volunteers transport pets who are being rescued, fostered, or adopted.]

The fact that both Mike and Pat have themselves survived cancer makes them particularly empathetic with their passengers. Sometimes passengers want to talk about what they’re going through and sometimes they just want to enjoy the ride. Mike recalls a passenger six years ago, Andrew, who was flying home to Arkansas from Chicago after his 25th and final cancer treatment. “Mr. Sisemore, I really want to thank you,” Mike recalls Andrew saying to him. “You’re my 100th pilot. They told me today that I’m cured.”

Air Adventurer

It’s probably safe to say that when Mike first learned to fly back in 1969, he wouldn’t have envisioned himself surviving two bouts with cancer and flying Angel Flights. When you’re young, you’re invincible and assume you always will be. Mike was working as a mechanic building race car engines in Tulsa, when one of his customers, a flight instructor, invited Mike to fly in his Cessna. He was hooked. Then, on the very day he went to purchase his own plane, he saw skydivers in the air. 

[Above: Mike in freefall]

That moment spawned a personal passion not just for skydiving, but also for freefall photography. Mike spent some 15 years filming skydivers; he filmed for Wide World of Sports and even recorded a 64-way freefall world record in Florida in the 1980s. But by the mid ‘80s, Mike and Pat’s children were growing up, so he gave up skydiving and photography to focus more on his family.

The air adventures didn’t stop there, though. For many years, the Sisemores hosted a fly-in for Super Cubs, and pilots flew in from all over the United States to attend. Mike and Pat also have built air strips on their own property so that they can fly off frequently to remote destinations for camping and sightseeing.

While their recent health issues have led them to scale back their excursions, the Sisemores’ commitment to Angel Flight South Central has only increased of late. “We enjoy flying people and really look forward to it,” Mike says. “People are so appreciative.”

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