A hike in the woods after seven months of cancer treatments turned Lelania Chapman into an unlikely hero and helped her realize she is more resilient than she imagined.
“I’ve never been in a situation like that before and you never know what you are going to be like,” she told TODAY. “No matter what, you are a lot stronger than you think you are.”
More Back to school videos
Inside the Crayola factory: See how the iconic crayons are made
Goodbye to homework: More schools give students the night off
Is your child’s backpack hazardous to their health?
Is it time to get rid of middle school?
During radiation treatment, Chapman only left her home to go to the doctor. After her final treatment, she decided to take her son and three of the neighborhood children on a waterfall hike near her home in Maple Ridge, outside Vancouver, Canada. Even though treatment had ended, she had received bad news. Doctors found more tumors; her cancer had spread. Instead of focusing on that, she decided to show her 9-year-old son something she enjoyed from her childhood.
The group settled by the falls when 11-year-old Lily Barber asked if anyone heard shouting. The falls roared so loudly, Chapman didn’t, at first. But then she thought perhaps she did hear someone crying out.
They walked toward the falls and Chapman spotted four teenage boys, trapped on a rock by the falls. Their lips were purple from cold. The 43-year-old mom attempted to call for help, but she had no cell signal.
As she started to walk back to her truck for cell service, she heard one boy cry, “I just want my mom."
She knew she couldn’t leave them.
“Some people say it’s a mother’s instinct,” she said.
She grabbed a blue rope from her backpack and climbed down the ravine to get closer to the teenagers. They had a long rope they threw to her; she tied it around the biggest tree she could find, wrapped it around her waist, and tossed it back to the teens.
The biggest boy, who is about 6 feet tall and 160 pounds, decided to climb up first to help her rescue the others. The 5-foot-3 Chapman — who lost weight during radiation and could barely lift a watermelon — managed to pull him up.
“I don’t know how I picked him up by myself,” she said. “I don’t really know to this day.”
She and the teen hauled two more boys up the cliff. She bashed her knee; some of her radiation burns and scars from surgery tore open, but she kept working.
Only one boy, the smallest, remained on the cliff. He felt scared; he thought the rope might break. Chapman laid on her belly and slithered over to the edge (she couldn’t crawl because of her injured knee) to talk to him. She asked his name: It was Cody, the same as her 25-year-old son. He told her he was going to jump.
“I told him it wasn’t a good idea and if he jumped, I would have to jump, and he just really needed to trust me,” she said.
He finally grabbed the rope; everyone felt so exhausted that pulling up Cody took much longer. But he finally arrived on top, safe, aside from bruises and cuts.
They walked to the parking lot where Chapman bandaged them and called their mothers. As Chapman made dinner later that day, 7-year-old Violet Barber summed up the day's events with a phrase that has become Chapman's new inspirational mantra.
“Yep, that’s just what we do. We fight cancer and save boys.”
Chapman still has more cancer fight ahead. But his mother's heroics that day changed something for her 9-tear-old son, Gwindin. He’s no longer scared.
“He said ‘You know what, mom? You are going to [beat] cancer because you are the strongest mom around,’” she said. “That is probably one of the most important lessons that I learned that day. I do have the strength.”
The Barber family set up a Go Fund Me for Chapman, who will likely need ongoing treatment.