Lung Leavin’ Day. Just the name makes people do a double take.
Then I explain Lung Leavin’ Day is the day my lung left, they sort of laugh nervously, not understanding if I’m being serious or not. Yes, Lung Leavin’ Day is the celebration of the day I had surgery to remove my left lung, which was affected by mesothelioma.
Lung Leavin' Day Quick Facts
- Purpose: To celebrate life and literally smash fears incited by cancer, mesothelioma or other serious illnesses
- Date: The first Saturday in February, this year February 3, 2024
- 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
How It All Came to Be
I have my very creative sister to thank for coming up with the name for the day instead of more traditional names, like “cancer-versary” or “surgi-versary.” She dreamt up the name while I was undergoing a surgical biopsy to confirm my mesothelioma diagnosis.
She knew that if I was going to go through an extrapleural pneumonectomy, we would want to commemorate the day somehow. As she and my husband tossed around ideas about how to celebrate, they decided upon writing our fears on a plate and smashing the plate into a bonfire.
They dreamed this celebration up as a combination of firewalking and plate-smashing. For firewalking, a person writes their fears on a plank of wood, throws it in the hot coals and walks across the coals to conquer those fears. Add to that plate-smashing, which is the Greek celebration of throwing plates against a wall to bring good luck.
The idea stuck and on the first anniversary of my lung removal surgery, February 2, 2007, my husband came home from work with a bouquet of flowers for me, two plates and two sharpies.
He went into our backyard and started a bonfire. It was cold that night, below zero if I recall, but that did not stop us. He got the fire roaring and we sat down at the kitchen table to start writing our fears on the plates.
I had only finished treatments a couple of months prior and was still trying to figure out what life was supposed to be like after all of the trauma of the past year. As I wrote my fears, they just poured out of that pen and onto the plate.
I had pushed so many fears down over the last year, so to finally give them light was intense. The tears flowed as the words were written. Fear of the cancer coming back, fear of not being able to raise our child, fear of dying young, fear of financial ruin, so many things were released as I wrote them line by line. The burden of keeping those fears hidden for so long started to lift and as we walked outside into the bitterly cold February evening. I felt lighter than I had in months.
We stood next to each other, just the two of us. He kissed my cheek and said, “Happy Lung Leavin’ Day!” and we each smashed our fears in the fire. IT FELT AMAZING! We started laughing and crying all at once and both said this tradition needed to be shared with others.
The Magic of Smashing Fears
The next year, 2008, we had a party and invited a bunch of friends and family to celebrate with us on the first Saturday of February. We ended up hosting about 40 people.
It was a hit, and the tradition of Lung Leavin’ Day began in earnest. Each year it gained momentum, and each year as more people learned of it, the tradition began to impact people on a much deeper level.
I had a friend tell me that being at Lung Leavin’ Day gave them courage to confront an eating disorder and get the help they needed. Another told me that the simple act of writing her fears down and smashing them gave her the inspiration to quit her dead-end job and start her own, now thriving, company. Yet another friend shared with me that it reminds her to be hopeful, to be brave and to get outside of herself to realize all she is capable of.
And the main thing? It gives hope to others who have cancer. It inspires, and in the last few years, we used Lung Leavin’ Day as a fundraiser for the non-profit Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. By selling merch and offering items in a silent auction, we have raised over $30,000 for The Meso Foundation! I’m extremely proud of what it’s become. It’s even listed on calendars as an official awareness day!
Sadly, the pandemic put a halt to our gathering, but not our celebration. My husband, child and I still write our fears on a plate on the first Saturday of February. The hubby still builds a huge bonfire in our backyard, and the three of us smash our plates.
We’ve decided that we’ll wait for the 20th anniversary in 2026 to bring back the party and make a HUGE celebration out of it. I’m talking fireworks and everything! I’ve already started brainstorming on how to make the night more magical than ever.
But one thing remains. Lung Leavin’ Day is always about overcoming your fears. It doesn’t matter if it’s just you, writing them on a piece of paper and tearing that paper up. Or going big and firewalking for real. It’s ultimately about overcoming what holds you back, and turning something that could be so terrible into something that’s a beautiful life-changing experience.
This year, join me on my Instagram page @HeatherVSJ on Saturday, February 3rd, as my little family will go live to break our plates, as we say, “Smashin’ fears for 18 years!”