We all have fears. I am so afraid of spiders. I hear creaks coming from my son’s empty room and think someone is hiding in his bedroom. But the scariest thing is yearly mammogram check up. Every year when it’s time for this test, I fear for the words “you have cancer.”
For Heather St. James, those were the words came true when she was told she had mesothelioma–a rare deadly cancer that occurs in the thin layer of cells that line your body’s internal organs. In Heather’s case, it was her lungs. Mesothelioma is typically associated with asbestos. Her father worked in construction and Heather loved to wear her dad’s coat. Little did she know that coat was covered with asbestos, which eventually led to her cancer. At the time of her diagnosis, she was given 15 months to live.
But Heather’s story isn’t about fear and resigning yourself to the inevitable. No, Heather is a fighter and she had a loving husband and daughter who needed her desperately.
And when I listened to her story I loved what she did with friends. I’m not talking about her strength, the doctors, her family and her friend’s support. It was her “plate” idea. Yes, a simple plate.
Every year on the anniversary of her cancer diagnosis, Heather builds a bonfire. Then she gathers family and friends who each take a plate and write their greatest fear on that plate. They then smash the plate into the fire in defiance of those fears and of Heather’s cancer. Heather has been cancer free for eight years– a true testament to the human spirit. She made me want to take a dozen plates and smash them in her honor. I am sure that symbolic smashing is very empowering.
“One important thing cancer taught me is the importance of acknowledging these apprehensions that prevent us from living life to the fullest extent,” said Heather. “And I created Lung Leavin’ Day to encourage others to face their fears!
Heather reached out to me and asked if I would share her story to help create awareness of this cancer and to help others face fears as her next anniversary approaches. You can also read more of Heather’s interview about Lung Leavin” Day with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.
If you can’t smash a fear in Heather’s honor, please share her story.