For months, Lelania Chapman had only been leaving her house for radiation treatments. But when she decided to take her nine-year-old son and some other neighbourhood kids for a hike, she had a chance encounter that would change the course of her life and four others.
Not long into the group’s hike, the B.C. mother heard the screaming of four boys who were trapped on the edge of a cliff near Maple Ridge, just northeast of Vancouver.
“I still see their faces looking up at me,” Chapman told CBC News.
When she tried to phone for help, she couldn’t get cell service. Her next instinct was to head back to her truck to get a signal, but then she heard one of the boys call for his mom.
“That’s when [I knew] I couldn’t walk away,” she said.
She told her kids to stay put, and when she made it to the cliff’s edge, she found a rope left behind by another group of hikers. She used the rope to tie herself to the biggest tree branch she could find, and threw the other end to the teenagers below.
“I was pulling with everything in me,” said Chapman, who was weakened from months of radiation treatment for her stage three breast cancer. She also found out that week that the cancer had spread, and that she has one malignant tumour on her thigh and another on her hip.
Three of the four boys were pulled to safety, but Chapman told CBC that when they got to the top of the rock face, their stomachs and chests were bleeding, and they were so cold that their lips had started to change colour.
Fearing the rope would break, the fourth boy refused to grab onto it and told Chapman he was going to jump into the waterfall.
“I said, ‘if you jump, I jump. And I don’t want to go swimming right now.’”
After about 20 minutes the boy, who Chapman believes was suffering from hypothermia, grabbed the rope, and she was able to pull him to safety.
Although the rescue was tough on Chapman—she spent the next week at the hospital suffering from an infection she received from the ropes rubbing against her radiation scars—it was still a positive experience for her.
“I was extremely depressed,” she told CBC. Even though the boys thanked her for saving them, she says that they did the very same for her.