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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.
As the years have come and gone, the thing that stands out to me about every celebration is the variety of people who attend. Of course there’s family: sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles, and my husband’s mother, who always comes. But what makes me smile the most is the friends we have from many walks of life, people who would probably never come together in the same place except on this one night.
LungLeavin’ Day 2014 proved no different. Childhood friends came, including Eric, who used to get in trouble with my husband when they were kids, and my friend Michael, who was in band, choir and drama with me in high school, and recently reconnected with me. (Seeing Eric was Cam’s favorite part of the night.) Friends that were my clients from when I worked in the salon, that also knew me pre-cancer and now have husbands and families of their own. The newer friends, the ones I’ve met through mutual friends and random experiences, like Gene, who came with his 4-year-old son, Emerson. We met when Gene and I struck up a conversation in the butterfly house at the Minnesota State Fair. When he and Emerson walked in, I was standing there, covered in butterflies as Lily ran around me, catching the insects and placing them on me by the dozen. Emerson still calls me Mama Butterfly.
But the most touching part is always sharing the night with other mesothelioma and cancer warriors. This year we had three to celebrate with: Vicki and Sharon (two other “Sugarbaker Girls”) and my dear friend Bruce. Vicki is 8 months post surgery; Sharon, a year. Bruce has peritoneal mesothelioma and is going on 5 years survival, holding his own against the disease and doing great. When I saw them walk in, it made me so happy.
To celebrate life takes on new meaning when you’re told yours won’t last long. Yet here we all were, defying the odds and smashing our fears. Our backyard was frigid but beautiful, ringed by globe lanterns and strands of blue lights, with the bonfire burning orange in the center. One by one, we took our plate and threw it into the fire. Each one shattered in a burst of sparks, and by the end of the night, the fire was ringed by countless shards of broken plates.
It always takes me awhile to come down off the high of the event. As I write this, I’m still sort of floating on it, and it’s carrying me through some tough times. My dad is sick, and having the support of all these friends and family helps me face that, and the fears that creep up about a parent falling ill.
All I have to do is watch the video my husband made, or the one my friend in Virginia made of his own celebration, because he and his family couldn’t be here for this one. It’s the community, the support, the love that comes out of this celebration that makes it special. I hope in the coming years to use the day to encourage more people to face their fears, to smash a plate, to raise more money for a cure and to increase awareness. I hope Lung Leavin' Day can help other people the way it’s helped me—with letting go and moving forward.
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