2 0 1 2Dec28

Treatments, Thanks & Traditions

Lily as an elf

I love social media! Through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, I've been able to communicate with literally hundreds of people throughout the world. I especially love it during the holidays, because it gives me a glimpse into the traditions and lives of my new friends. Traditions are the rituals we all do year after year and carry on generation after generation without question. We just do them "because it's always been this way".

When Cams and I got married, we decided to start our own traditions. I think every married couple does this because you need to make something your own. Those early years, we didn't really do much outside of go for a drive to look at lights and have crab legs for Christmas Dinner. We always celebrated Christmas Day with just the 2 of us. We often talked of the days to come when we would have kids about how we would handle the holidays and what traditions we would start.

When I was diagnosed with mesothelioma just after Lily was born, we didn't have the time or energy to start any new traditions that year. We just numbly plodded through the holiday. We did our best to try and make it special for Lily's first Christmas, but we could not ignore the shadow of mesothelioma looming over us. I still feel a little melancholy every year when I put her “Babies First Christmas” ornament on our tree.

Elves making pancakes

Through the next few months following surgery and treatments, the holidays were upon us again. I was finished in all my treatments and we decided to celebrate Christmas in a big way that year. We had MUCH to be thankful for. We started a new tradition of my parents coming out to our home for the holiday, instead of us going to my childhood home. They know the importance of starting one’s own traditions and they wanted to continue to be a part of Lily's life. That year, my mom and I baked tons of my favorite cookies and Lily was old enough to (sort of) help. We still do this every year when she arrives.

We also started a tradition called “Elf on the Shelf”. It is a little elf that Santa sends to the house to be his special helper. He keeps an eye on Lily and reports back to Santa at the North Pole every night. When he returns the next day, he is in a new spot. It didn’t take Lily long to catch on that the elf “moved” around every day. She would jump out of bed every morning in December to go find Filbert, as this was what we named him. Last year, Filbert was lost so a new elf came to “watch”. His name is Filmore, Filberts brother. Filbert was found half way through December and arrived with a note from Santa. Now Lily has 2 elves that get into mischief daily. We’ve had great fun with those elves this year and so did the many friends on Facebook whom we shared the pictures with! We didn’t even really mean for it to take off like it did, but Lily love seeing what crazy things they did every day. And now, it is probably our favorite part of the Christmas festivities.

Elves captured by Legos

We spend Christmas Eve with my husband’s family and Christmas Day is for my parents, Lily, Cams, and me. It is perfect. My dad, being the amazing cook he is, made us a prime rib dinner that first year and that tradition we carry on still. The meal he cooked this Christmas has been the best yet!

In our family, we've started another yearly tradition; it has nothing to do with Christmas, but everything to do with my cancer diagnosis. I had my surgery to remove my left lung on Feb 2nd, 2006, that day has been forever named "Lungleavin Day" in our world. Our tradition started in 2007, Cams and I built a small fire in the back yard and had a small Lungleavin Day celebration. We bundled up against the -4 degree temperature, wrote our fears on a plate, and proceeded to smash those fears into the fire. We have celebrated in much the same manner since that first one, except we have turned it into a huge celebration shared by many more people. It's the tradition around it that gives it meaning. Much like prime rib is our traditional Christmas meal, we have a traditional "food" for Lungleavin Day-- sloppy Joes, and gourmet cupcakes! People have come to know that is what is served, along with a lot of other food, but always sloppy Joes and gourmet cupcakes at the center. It is something we continue to do, year after year. This year will mark 7 years since my surgery and we are planning another big celebration with friends and family from all over.

Elves hanging out with Barbies

Cameron and I have brought together traditions from his childhood, my childhood, and have made our own. I'm sure over the next many years, we will continue to add new ones or strengthen the ones we already observe.

I hope your holiday, no matter what you celebrate, is filled with rich traditions and you make up new ones to pass along, just as we have done. May 2013 be filled with blessings and thank you all for being part of my new life!

Tags: cancer, diagnosis, lungleavin day, mesothelioma

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About Heather

  • Wife of Cameron Von St. James and mother to Lily Rose
  • Pleural mesothelioma survivor
  • Treated by Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston
  • Self proclaimed “Poster child for hope after mesothelioma” for those suffering from asbestos disease
  • Continues to live with strong faith, abundant gratitude and an unbeatable will to live each day

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