LungLeavin’ Day 2014 – Our Interview with Heather Von St. James logo

The MCA’s very own Heather Von St. James is spearheading an awareness effort on behalf of mesothelioma victims by sharing her personal holiday, LungLeavin’ Day. LungLeavin’ Day started out as a personal celebration in the beginning of February between Heather and her husband Cameron to recognize each year Heather remained cancer-free, but has now turned into a celebration of life and overcoming fears with many family members, friends and cancer survivors. LungLeavin’ Day is not just for cancer survivors though, it is a day for anyone who desires to take control of their lives and throw their fears to the fire. Read our interview with Heather below, check out her new page and share with your loved ones!

MCA: Explain the significance of LLD and where the idea originated.

Heather Von St. James: LungLeavin’ Day (LLD) is the anniversary of the surgery I had to remove my left lung due to malignant pleural mesothelioma. The actual date is February 2nd. The name came about when my sister decided to rename Groundhog Day “LungLeavin’ Day,” because it is literally the day my lung left.

She and my husband came up with the idea of the celebration while I was in surgery to get the tumor biopsied. The day before my surgery, my sister sent me a story to read, that was titled, ‘The Perfect LungLeavin’ Day Celebration.” She wrote it so I would picture this fantastical, beautiful celebration while I was being put under, and during surgery I would be in a happy place. Every time I read it I cry. It’s such an amazing story, and it’s the inspiration behind every LungLeavin’ Day.

MCA: Why smashing plates?

HVSJ: It’s symbolic of smashing your fears. What we do is write fears, obstacles, and things that hold us back on plates and smash them in a bonfire. It is the combination of two things: my sisters’ firewalking experience, where they would write fears on a piece of wood, throw it in a fire, and walk over it, and also just smashing something to feel better.

MCA: Is LLD only for cancer survivors?

HVSJ: Absolutely not! It is an entire family and friends event. Anyone who is interested comes together and celebrates LIFE and all it has to offer. It is a celebration more than anything. Everyone has fears they want to overcome, and this night is a great night to really face those and do something about it. It is very cathartic.

MCA: It seems obvious that many of your fears would be cancer-related, what are some other fears that you throw to the fire?

HVSJ: Financial fears, the fear of my child seeing me sick, losing my loved ones, bats and spiders– they change from year to year, depending on what I’m dealing with. The main idea of LLD is not to give your fears power in your life. It is to have power over those fears; to accentuate the positive, not the negative.

MCA: What is the difference from your first celebration of LLD compared to what you have planned for this year?

HVSJ: Oh wow…the first year, I almost forgot about it. My husband, however, did not. He went out and bought 2 plates and a sharpie. We went outside on February 2nd, and if I remember, it was a very, very cold night. The fire was not very big, but there we were, all bundled up and outside in the cold and snow, smashing our plates. That first year it was just the 2 of us. We smashed our fears to smithereens that night and celebrated 1-year cancer free. We started talking that night about sharing this day with friends and family. Steadily throughout the years it has grown into a huge celebration with all our friends, family and now other mesothelioma survivors and other cancer survivors joining in.

MCA: Besides a celebration, LLD is a fundraiser. Where does the money raised from LLD go to?

HVSJ: The 7th year, we decided it was time to give back to the community so we started using the occasion as a fundraiser for the 3 organizations that have made such difference in our lives. All of the money raised gets split 3 ways– the International Mesothelioma Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization all benefit.

MCA: For those who can’t make it to your house, how can a family member, loved one, or friend participate in LLD?

HVSJ: This year, we’ve created a really cool interactive page where you can actually smash a virtual plate and throw your fear to the fire! Share it with your loved ones, cancer fighters and cancer survivors– everyone you know!

We will also be webcasting the event live on my Facebook page.

I also have a fundraising page set up on Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation’s site. All donations on this page are secure, tax deductible, and go directly to The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.