Lung Leavin’ Day 2023: Celebrating Life, Hope and Bravery Against Cancer

Mesothelioma survivor Heather Von St. James celebrates her annual Lung Leavin’ Day on February 4, 2023

Like many other cancer survivors, I have dates on the calendar that mark specific events throughout my mesothelioma experience. Dates like the day I was diagnosed, the first day of chemo and the last day of radiation. But one day in particular stands out, not only because it was the day my life changed forever, but how we choose to commemorate it makes it unique. The day I had my lifesaving surgery is the day we choose to celebrate.

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 4, 2023

Time: 7:00 p.m. CST

Location: Heather’s Instagram

Fundraising Goal: To raise money for mesothelioma patients in need of financial assistance for treatment-related travel

The Day My Lung Left

On February 2, 2006, I had a surgery called an extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP). I’m glad to say I made it through with flying colors. While I was in surgery, my sister and husband got to talking about what the day really meant.

My sister renamed the day “Lung Leavin’ Day” for the day my lung left. They decided we needed to celebrate the day, too. After all, it was the day that saved my life, and that was worth celebrating.

My EPP Experience

  • During my EPP, surgeons removed my lung, part of my diaphragm and the linings of my lung (pleura) and heart (pericardium). My doctor replaced my diaphragm and pericardium with a synthetic mesh called Gore-Tex.
  • After the surgery, doctors used a heated chemotherapy wash in the chest cavity. For me, this wash lasted about an hour.
  • Like most EPPs, mine was extensive. 8 – 10 hours is pretty normal for what I had done.

Lung Leavin’ Day Becomes an Annual Celebration

One year later on February 2, 2007, my husband came home from work with two Sharpie markers and two white plates. You see, I remembered the anniversary but had forgotten all about the celebration for Lung Leavin’ Day. The reason for the plates and Sharpies was to write your fears and things that hold you back on the plate. Then, take that plate and smash it in a bonfire.

So, we did just that. We sat down and wrote our fears on the plates. As I did this, they literally poured out of me. I hadn’t realized how many fears I had held in through the last year, especially since finishing treatment. When we smashed the plates in the bonfire, we realized that this was something others could benefit from. So, a tradition was born.

Ever since, on the first Saturday of February, we celebrate Lung Leavin’ Day with our friends and family. We have even broadcast it on Facebook and Instagram Live to invite people from all over to experience it with us.

How We’re Celebrating Lung Leavin’ Day in 2023

On the sixth year, we decided to use the event as a fundraiser for mesothelioma research and travel grants. To date, we have raised more than $30,000 for various organizations. In 2019, we dedicated all our efforts to The Von St. James Travel Grant. February 2020 was the last live event, however, due to the pandemic.

We made the tough decision not to hold an in-person party until the pandemic is better controlled. Many people who attend the party are patients or cancer survivors, so keeping everyone safe is a priority. We do not let it stop our tradition though!

This year on February 4th:

  • I’ll be on Instagram Live through my account @heathervsj. Feel free to log on at 7 p.m. CST to break a plate virtually with me!
  • We are also still raising money for The Von St. James Travel Grant through the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. This grant helps many mesothelioma patients with the cost of treatment-related travel.

I hope you can join us on February 4th, and if you see fit, donate to our cause.

Lung Leavin’ Day is about more than a surgery anniversary. It’s a time to address your fears and break through anything holding you back from what you desire out of life. It’s about new beginnings and stepping into your power. It’s about love, life — and most of all — hope. That is a pretty sweet legacy if you ask me.