Lung Leavin’ Day 2022: Celebrating Survivorship in a Pandemic

Lung Leavin' Day is a celebration of life and a triumph over fears caused by mesothelioma and other cancers.

This February 2nd I’ll be celebrating 16 years since I had my left lung removed due to mesothelioma. Every year since then we’ve had a celebration we call Lung Leavin’ Day: the day my lung left!

It all started with my husband and sister brainstorming while I had a biopsy done. Their brainstorm launched a tradition centered around naming and confronting your fears. It involves writing your fears, and things that are holding you back, on a plate and smashing the plate into a bonfire.

Lung Leavin' Day Event Quick Facts

Purpose: To celebrate life and literally smash fears incited by cancer, mesothelioma or other serious illnesses
Recurring Date: The first Saturday in February
This Year’s Date: February 5, 2022
Time: 7:00 p.m. CST
Location: Heather’s Facebook page
Fundraising Goal: To raise money for mesothelioma patients in need of financial assistance for treatment-related travel

The Origins of Lung Leavin’ Day

On the first anniversary of my surgery, I had completely forgotten about their idea, but my husband hadn’t. He came home with two plates and two markers and, despite the negative temperatures outside, he built a small bonfire in our firepit. We sat down with our plates and started writing.

I didn’t realize I’d been holding in so much fear about cancer. I started writing and, as the words came, so did the tears. The previous year had been the hardest of my life. I was juggling so many heavy things:

  • Fighting cancer with my entire being
  • Trying to raise a baby
  • Reconciling the fact that the cancer I had fought was considered terminal

I lost my career, many friends and my health along with my lung. Naturally, I had a lot of fear taking up space in my head. My husband and I bundled up and went out to the fire. We took a deep breath and, on the count of three, threw our plates into the fire. It felt amazing!

We looked at each other and, at the same moment, realized we had to share this with others. That was the night that the idea of a bigger Lung Leavin’ Day celebration was born.

More Than a Small Celebration

After that first celebration, we started throwing a Lung Leavin’ Day party on the first Saturday of February. On the sixth anniversary, we decided to give back to the mesothelioma community. In the prior year, I had become involved with the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. After getting to know the foundation and its mission, I felt good about the prospect of raising money for such a worthy cause.

Since the beginning of our fundraising efforts, we’ve raised close to $35,000. A few years ago, we started the Von St. James Travel Fund to help patients who need to travel for treatment. It was fitting for us since I had to travel for my life-saving treatment. That fund alone has garnered over $15,000 in donations.

Continuing the Tradition Despite COVID-19

Our last in-person celebration was in February 2020. Weeks later in March, the pandemic really took hold. In 2021, we had a virtual celebration through Facebook Live. People shared their fears electronically with my husband and me, and we wrote those fears on plates. Then we live-streamed the two of us standing in the backyard, breaking those fear-covered plates. It wasn’t the same as having 100 of our closest friends and family celebrate, but it was something.

Mesothelioma Fundraising Continues

Cancer diagnoses don’t stop just because of a pandemic. People still need to see specialists, and many still need help with travel expenses. The financial need for programs like our travel grant never go away and may be even more important in this pandemic. As a result, many annual fundraisers have made the same decision we did with Lung Leavin’ Day: to continue safely helping others by going virtual.

The Spirit of Lung Leavin’ Day Inspires People

When we started Lung Leavin’ Day all those years ago, we just wanted to share it with people as a way to turn something that could be so negative and such a bad memory into something positive and life-affirming.

So many people have told me that our celebration and the example we set through my cancer battle inspired them to overcome their own obstacles in life. Hearing those stories from people gives me such satisfaction. Those stories confirm that Lung Leavin’ Day is so much more than just a celebration or a fundraiser. It is life changing.

We always hoped it would grow and impact people, but we never dreamed it would be as far-reaching as it is. It’s even listed in the Official Days Of The Year Calendar! How cool is that?

The Future of Lung Leavin’ Day

We don’t know what the future holds for Lung Leavin’ Day. But this much I do know: as long as I’m still here, we will break plates on the first Saturday in February. I hope by 2023 things will be safe once again, so that we can gather with our friends and family.

We always broadcast the event, pandemic or not. So even though you can’t be with us in person this year, virtually is the next best thing! You can join in as we continue to champion the cause of the Meso Foundation and help patients with their travel expenses:

I hope you’ll join us in the breaking of a few plates and use this opportunity to make a difference in the life of a newly diagnosed mesothelioma patient by donating to our fundraiser.

Grab a marker and a plate and get to writing! There are fears to smash!