Express Week

Mom and daughter, both U.S. flight attendants, face grim reality

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NEW YORK CITY -- The glitz and glamour of jet-setting to London, Paris, Milan and all the fancy European cities sounded too good to pass up for a mother and her daughter who made their careers working for two major United States airlines as flight attendants. Until today.

It’s a dream for countless young women and men to work for an international airline, to see destinations one can only imagine while meeting world famous personalities on board, up close. Aside from clocking their flying hours, serving first-class passengers can mean big, fat tips a bar tender can only hope for.

World-class perks are not without high risks though. Along with the stress of being airborne most of the time, especially in these days of civil war and terrorism, the prolonged exposure to airline radiation is said to be a hundred times more powerful than a regular radiology or CtScan. Mystery illnesses have beset workers; for some, discovery came too late.


Jen Samson just turned 50, in time for a routine colonoscopy. To the shock and distress of her family, she is found to have a stage 4 cancer that has metastasized to her liver and a good portion of her lungs. She had seen Filipino and American doctors in the past when she survived a breast tumor. Some doctors had raised concern about her prolonged airline radiation exposure, but at this stage, it seemed too late to seek a new career.

Her only daughter, Danica Lilia, also started her own career as a flight attendant, besting thousands of other candidates for the most coveted post. In one of the turbulent trips she served, she hurt her back, requiring epidural shots. Now recovering from the injury, she is seriously hoping to get into a management position within the same airline as she struggles to gain new degree. Her only consolation is that she is still able to drive her mother to the hospital and spend this time to be with her.

Both mother and daughter realized for the first time that the health benefits packaged for their type of job is conditioned upon sustaining continued flying activity. Where Jen, for instance, is confirmed to have a late stage 4 colon cancer that has spread to her other vital organs, one that is classified as a terminal disease with no hope of returning to work, the health coverage will terminate by the end of this year. Ironically, her health insurance will terminate at a time when it is most needed.

Jen’s husband, Ike, is just recovering from economic devastation himself. He just got back to work a humble job with benefits that are far from what the airlines currently offer. They made it through all of life’s challenges, celebrating marriage again and again in the Catholic Church. They are inseparable; the success of their marriage has not faltered through the bleak years: “Till death do us part.”

 Hoping for miracles

Miracles do happen. Friends and family have pulled together to get Jen to New York’s premier cancer center, Memorial Sloan Kettering, where she is undergoing aggressive chemotherapy every two weeks. Her current airline health benefit covers most of the US $9,000 per treatment cost, but not for long. As Jen and family pool their meager resources seeking new health insurance coverage at a steep premium, it is not likely that it will cover the astronomical cost per treatment at this premier hospital.

For now, Jen and family are looking forward to see the Thanksgiving parade in New York, still upbeat; but deep inside, the fear of spending one last holiday together is all too real. The hope of getting through Christmas is pure luxury, especially knowing that the end of the year means end of her health benefits. Her dependent mother, Lilia, age 84 is helpless, but she too is asking for answers. In her room she is staring at a white lace dress that her daughter told her to keep, because it is her favorite dress. Prayers calm anxious thoughts.

Next time you take that first class ticket to fly to Europe, think of the multi-awarded flight attendant Jen Samson, soft spoken, always smiling even in the face of filthy rich passengers who demand the impossible. Her health risks may not be covered after that flight. Crusaders for Jen started a small website, read more of their personal stories:

The Filipino Express

2711 John F. Kennedy Boulevard
Jersey City, NJ 07306 USA.

Phone: 201 434-1114
Fax: 201 434-0880

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