facing your fears

Post by Heather Von St James for the Kind Kindred series.

Having a sense of humor can help get you through life challenges. Thankfully, it is a characteristic that I was blessed with. Humor is something my husband, Cameron, and I used to cope l with my malignant pleural mesothelioma diagnosis in November 2005. In order to save my life, I underwent a risky surgery called an extrapleural pneumonectomy. This procedure required the removal of my left lung, half my diaphragm, and the lining of my heart.

This was not a routine procedure and the fact that I was a new mom made the situation even more complicated. My baby turned six months old just two days after my surgery. Luckily, I was able to bring some humor into this trying situation to help make it not as frightening. When I learned my surgery would take place on February 2, I nicknamed my tumor Punxsutawney Phil. I joked that if my tumor saw its shadow, I would have another 6 months of recovery. Joking made the procedure less scary. Even my sister joined in on the fun. She thought we should name this life-changing event. Soon we began to call this remarkable day, LungLeavin’ Day as it was the day I lost my left lung.

My sister and husband began talking about how we should celebrate LungLeavin’ Day. My sister who is familiar with fire walking, came up with the idea of writing fears on an object and throwing it in a fire to be burned. Since the idea of fire walking was frightful, my husband decided that we should use plates that could be smashed into a fire instead.

On the anniversary of my surgery, my husband bought a sharpie and two plates. We wrote down our fears on these plates, went outside, and smashed our plates into the fire Cam had built. This experience was so therapeutic that we decided to share our experience with our family members and friends.

LungLeavin’ Day has now grown to include over 75 family members and friends. Cams and I decided to use this occasion as a fundraiser for mesothelioma. We donate all of the money raised to organizations that have been of great help: The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, the International Mesothelioma Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

The celebration is not just for people who have survived cancer- it is for everyone. We get children involved, too. They write their fears on paper plates and throw them into the fire. My daughter, Lily, has great memories from the celebrations and looks forward to the event every year.

This year we wanted to extend the event to even more people. We will be webcasting the event live via Facebook, and we also created an interactive webpage where you can write your fears and virtually smash your plate. We hope you’ll partake in the fun! Happy LungLeavin’ Day!

Heather Von St. James is a mesothelioma cancer survivor. Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma and given 15 months to live just 3 ½ months after giving birth to her daughter, Lily. Today, Heather is an 8-year mesothelioma cancer survivor and continues to dedicate her life to spreading both inspiration and awareness of this preventable disease.

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