Heather and Cam

In The Beginning

Lung Leavin’ Day began as a way to deal with stress and as a way to cope with mesothelioma. The idea of Lung Leavin’ Day came just after Heather’s second biopsy, which confirmed her mesothelioma diagnosis. At a time when we should have been celebrating the start of our family and getting to know our new baby daughter Lily, who was born 3 months earlier, we were in a hospital far from home fighting cancer. There was a lot to be stressed about.

After some additional tests, Heather was confirmed as a candidate for a surgery called extrapleural pneumonectomy. This surgery would remove her left lung, as well as the tumor and surrounding tissue. It was going to be a long surgery, and an even longer recovery. The surgery was scheduled for February 2, Groundhog Day. This is where it started.

Heather went first; she decided to name her tumor Punxsutawney Phil, in honor of the surgery date. It was just the humor we needed, and we went with it. First came jokes about recovery time and shadows. Next thing I know we’re calling the day Lung Leavin’ Day instead of Groundhog Day. Heather’s sister Danna wrote a great fairy tale story about the day and I came up with the idea of writing our fears on a plate, and then smashing the plate in a bonfire. We all joked about how we would celebrate this day and share it with others in the future. Heather made me promise her I would celebrate the day no matter what happened. And then the surgery came…

That First Year

It was a long recovery process. Heather spent months recovering from the surgery before undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. Over that first year, Heather’s health slowly improved and soon we found ourselves upon the first anniversary of her surgery. I remembered the promise and got plates to break and markers for writing our fears.

Looking back, I have to laugh. Danna gave this more thought than I did. I re-read her story. Here is the first sentence; “So since it’s winter now I thought it would be nice to hold our celebration in a beautiful warm nature setting.” I was born and raised in Minnesota — not the best place to have a bonfire in February. But cold and snow weren’t going to stop me. I shoveled the snow out of the fire pit and made a bonfire all the same.

That first year it was just Heather and I. But it was wonderful. It just felt right to be standing outside, even on a cold February night, smashing plates with our fears on them in a fire. We took a quick photo and told our friends and family about the night, and it caught on.

Growth of Lung Leavin’ Day

As years passed, the celebration grew. The idea of smashing fears and celebrating life resonated, and people felt inspired and empowered. Soon friends and fellow mesothelioma warriors from across the globe joined in our celebration, posting pictures and videos on social media. The last few years Heather and I have used Lung Leavin’ Day to raise money and awareness for mesothelioma research and asbestos awareness. So far we have been able to raise over $12,000.

Lung Leavin’ Day has also received a lot of attention over the years. Lung Leavin’ Day has been written about in a book and newspapers, and I've been able to share our story with thousands worldwide. This year, the local newspaper sent a reporter and a photographer to cover the event.

Today and Beyond

It’s not uncommon for our phone to ring once or twice a week and the caller is a newly diagnosed mesothelioma patient or family member. Many are scared and confused after the diagnosis. They are looking for someone who can help — someone who has been there. It feels good to be able to help and give back to the community. Heather and I remember all those who’ve helped us, and how we couldn’t have made it through without them. Thank you again to everyone who helped us out when we needed it most. Thank you.

For the future, Heather and I hope to continue growing Lung Leavin’ Day – to have everyone join in celebrating life and smashing fears. We dream of a world where asbestos is banned and is no longer a danger. A world where mesothelioma no longer exists. Until then, we’ll continue to use Lung Leavin’ Day to raise money and awareness for mesothelioma research and fight to have asbestos banned.

For now we’re busy planning next year – the big 10th anniversary of Lung Leavin’ Day. It will be special. I hope you can join us. Smash your fears – celebrate life!