Heather Von St. James
Courageous Mother, Wife and Survivor of Mesothelioma
Lungleavin Day was born out of necessity. It came about as a way to see light in a very dark time in our lives, and as way to conquer the fear that so often accompanies a cancer diagnosis. Below is the story of its origins and what it means to us today.
A Celebration of Life
My wonderfully imaginative sister coined the day I had my surgery to “Lungleavin Day” since it was the day my lung left. She and my husband Cameron were discussing, how, in a year from now, we would be celebrating the fact that my lung had left and the ideas started to flow. Since it was February and would be cold, we must have a bonfire, and there must be some sort of release or physical demonstration as we conquer fear. That is where the breaking of plates comes into play. The ritual is this- write your fears, worries and concerns on a plate in a sharpie marker, take this plate out to the bonfire, and hurl that sucker into the fire and smash it to pieces.
Those who have partaken all agree- it is amazingly cathartic. We have taken this ritual and turned it into a yearly celebration attended by friends, family and neighbors. People come for a night of celebrating life. It began with just Cameron and I, outside on a cold February night, and has grown to a huge party with more than 70 people attending. Adults, children, young and old alike, come together. Food, drinks, and a lot of great friendships are enjoyed.
A Community Ritual
On a small table near the door, I have a memorial candle burning in memory of all those mesothelioma warriors that I have known and lost, and those that are continuing to fight. It has its own special place, with a framed piece of paper listing their names. Last year, people started writing names of loved ones they had lost to cancer, and the night transformed to a memorial night for all cancer warriors who have touched our lives. I love how that just happened and how it affects people’s lives, if even for a day.
There is something about giving voice to your fears, writing them down, then smashing them in a fire, and seeing the shards of that plate, and those shards of fears in the flames that gives you courage to face up to them and not let them rule your life. Fear holds no power over anyone that night and even the children get into it as they learn the power of conquering fear even early on. We give them paper plates and markers. Pictures of monsters, ghosts and on one occasion broccoli were drawn representing their early understanding of fear in life. They get to throw the plates into the fire to see them burn. No nightmares that night.
Observe and Remember – Write Your Own Story
Lungleavin Day is more than just an anniversary of my surgery. It has become a ritual and unofficial sacrament for not only my family, but a tradition for many. I have encouraged many other people facing mesothelioma or any cancer, for that fact to have a similar party or some sort of tradition in their own right. Balloon releases, quiet dinners, it makes no difference. The important thing is that it is about you, and your battle, and how you’ve overcome adversity. In my family?.... We break plates. And it works.