Heather Von St. James
Courageous Mother, Wife and Survivor of Mesothelioma
The 7th Annual Lungleavin Day is all but a memory now. The remnants of a great night are all around; the shards of plates around the cold coals of the extinguished fire, the ice lanterns are nothing more than globes of ice, the dining room table still has the serving dishes used for the night sitting on it, all cleaned and waiting to be put in the storage bin until next year. The silent auction donations are still in their places and phone calls have been made to all the winners. This week will be spent delivering them and picking up the donations so generously made for mesothelioma research. What can't be seen is the gratitude that my husband, daughter and I have in our hearts for all of the love and support that so many have given us.
There were many things that went into making this year’s celebration special. There was the help from my very talented designer friends in making signs and setting up the auction. We also had some very special guests, Mary Hesdorffer, Director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, who flew all the way from the East coast to be here with us and celebrate, and 2 other mesothelioma patients. One is newly diagnosed and facing surgery in less than a month. Another is a 4-year peritoneal mesothelioma patient who is currently battling a reoccurrence, but is doing well. He is a musician and toward the end of the night he sang and played his mandolin—it was the perfect addition to our celebration. There was one sad note, the passing of a dear friend earlier in the week that made my heart ache. Her funeral was the same day and, although I could not be there, I dedicated the night in honor of Pam, my dear, fierce warrior friend. She would have loved knowing the night was in honor of her and perhaps she did.
My husband spent days getting the back yard, where the bonfire is, ready for the smashing of the plates. It looked like a winter wonderland with blue lights surrounding the area and the ice globe lanterns we made sitting around glowing softly. It was almost magical.
People started showing up before 6:00 and the house quickly filled with laughter and the clinking of glasses. A full on party was happening! At one point, I just paused and looked around, if I never had cancer, this would not be happening. This is where the saying of a double-edged sword comes in. It was horrible going through all we went through, the first year was hell and there have been ups and downs along the way. But looking around my packed house, hearing kids laughter from upstairs where all the kiddos where playing, and seeing all the love and support makes it all part of who my husband and I are today. It's ok! Better than ok!
I have a purpose in my life now, a mission. And if I take this tragedy and turn it around to make something good? Then it was all worth it. Lungleavin Day is more than just an anniversary of getting my lung removed, it signifies HOPE, rebirth, moving forward, and conquering those fears that can impede you from achieving what you are meant to do. The night has become a night to be treasured among my circle of friends and family; a night of true celebration and a night of LIFE.
More importantly, we were able to raise a good amount of money for mesothelioma research and awareness education. This is my second year using the event as a fundraiser and I am totally in awe of the generosity of people and businesses who are willing to donate their goods and services to help my cause. We had over 30 items for the silent auction, everything from gift cards to photography sessions to tickets to a local comedy club. Amazing the variety of things and something for everyone. Every single item was bid on, so I call that a success. As of the end of the party, over $4500 had been raised. I sat there at the end of the night and tears of gratitude fan down my cheeks as the money was being counted. In this disease, every bit of money raised is a huge help, so I'm proud to do what I can and it couldn't be done without the support of all of our loved ones.
Each year, as soon as it’s over, we start talking about how to make next year better—and the next, and the next. Even planning the 10th! I hope you all come along with me on this journey.
Like I always say, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” You've got to live! And I've got some living to do!
Happy Lungleavin Day to you all!