Every year following Lung Leavin’ Day, I write a recap of the evening. This year I wanted to do something a little different. I know the event has a huge effect on people, and in the last couple of years people have shared their feelings about the night with me. I thought I would ask a few friends about their thoughts on the tradition and share them with you.
Heather Von St. James
Courageous Mother, Wife and Survivor of Mesothelioma
As a society, we put a huge emphasis on our children’s “firsts”: baby’s first tooth, baby’s first steps. The first birthday, the first day of school. Oh my, how I remember that day with Lily! So many of her firsts were milestones simply for the fact that I was not supposed to be alive to see them. I treasured each of those firsts, and marked the occasions with pictures and videos. I even still have her first tooth somewhere.
When I was diagnosed with mesothelioma, I felt more isolated than I ever had in my life.. I was a mere 36 years young and told I had an incredibly rare cancer that, in most cases, was diagnosed in much older men. I felt utterly alone and defeated.
I always credit Linda Reinstein from the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) with giving me my voice. Four years ago, it was Linda who started me on this crazy journey of speaking and sharing my story with others when she approached me to speak at her conference.
Every year, 3000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma.
In 2005, I was one of them.
I had never worked with asbestos, but my father did, and secondhand exposure as a child was enough to make me sick decades later. I was lucky, able to make a miraculous recovery through surgery. But I experienced for myself the fear, pain and suffering this disease can cause, and I believe I’ve found my calling fighting for victims of mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases.
Eight years. I still find it hard to believe sometimes.
That first year—the one-year mark of Lung Leavin’ Day—it was just Cams and me, outside by a little bonfire on a freezing cold night, writing our fears on a plate. Mine had everything to do with cancer, since surgery was so fresh in my mind. I didn’t read his plate; they’re his fears to smash, not mine. When we were finished writing we both took a breath and shattered our plates in the flames. With that, a tradition was born.
November brings out the best in many people. The spirit of Thanksgiving is everywhere; on social media, friends are posting 30 days of thankfulness. I love this idea and have participated in it many times since I have much to be thankful for. But to me November is not a month I look forward to; in fact, I pretty much dread it every year since 2005. November means winter is starting, the days are shorter, it’s colder, it’s grey and dreary, and if we don’t have snow, we have rain and fog. My yard is all soggy, brown and depressing-- quite a change from the colorful summer and fall with all my many flowers blooming.
September happens to be one of my favorite times of the year-- not only because the weather is usually picture perfect and the leaves start turning, but every year my mom and I go to New York City for Mesothelioma Awareness Day. This was our 3rd trip and each year we love it more and more. It’s becoming a tradition for my mom and I to arrive a day early, enjoy a nice dinner and get ready for the bright and early wake up time of 4:00 am to get to the plaza of the Today Show by 5:30. We get there so early to secure a good place around the barriers to be seen by the hosts. NYC at 5 in the morning is amazing, it’s actually quiet with the occasional roar of a truck engine in the distance. By the time we are allowed onto the plaza for the taping of the show, there is a line down the block of people wanting to get noticed. All of us who were there for Mesothelioma Awareness Day were dressed in our bright yellow “Cure Meso” t-shirts and grouped together so we would be noticed when the hosts of the show came around. Strength in numbers!