(Heather and her husband, Cameron, and daughter, Lily)
A week ago, I was checking my email when I noticed I had a message from someone I haven’t heard of, and her name was Heather. After reading Heather’s message, I realised that she had reached out to me through my blog. And out of the millions of other blogs out there, she had particularly chosen mines, amongst a few selected others, to help raise an important and personal awareness.
Heather Von St. James is a 9 year cancer survivor. She had mesothelioma, and she was given only 15 months to live. She also had to undergo a life changing procedure. And to make matters worse, at the time when she was diagnosed, she also happened to be a new mother. She was filled with fear.
There are two types of mesothelioma. One is pleural mesothelioma, where the cancer grows inside the tissue and covers the lungs. The other is peritoneal mesothelioma, where the cancer grows in the lining of the abdomen. Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma includes pain in the chest or lower back, a high feverish temperature, persistent cough, and unexplained weight loss. And Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma includes pain or swelling of the abdomen, nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhoea or constipation, and unexplained weight loss. What causes mesothelioma is asbestos, which is an insulating material that is heat and fire resistant. Asbestos was widely used in the building industry back in the 1950s to 1990s until it was banned in 1999 due to risk of health. The changes of getting asbestos is greater if one is exposed to it at an early age. Heather had pleural mesothelioma. As a little girl, she used to inhale asbestos from her father’s jacket which she used to wear around the house.
Then on February 2nd, 9 years ago, Heather managed to have her lung removed. That was the day her sister declared it Lung Leavin’ Day. From then onwards, every year, on Lung Leavin’ Day, Heather, her friends, family, and other supporters, would celebrate the day by writing their biggest fears on a plate and then smashing it into the fire.
After having corresponded with Heather, she felt like no stranger to me. In fact, I felt touched that she had reached out to me and told me this personal story. I even mentioned to her that my father had throat cancer. He died 14 years ago when I was late in my teens. The sad thing is that I didn’t know about the cancer until after he had died. My then-boyfriend and his father were helping me pack up his things when they found some medical files. They looked through it and learned that my father had been battling throat cancer for several years, and I had no idea about it. Cancer never crossed my mind. There were times when I noticed my father looking tired and losing weight. He said he was under a lot of stress at work and that his blood pressure was high. After learning my father had cancer, which I did not know about, made me angry and helpless. Sometimes I still blame myself for his death. If only I had known. But there were no clues as to why he never told me. No letter. Nothing. Nobody knew. Only the doctor knew.
If I had known about my father’s cancer, I would have helped him battle it. I would have done and given up anything for him. I would have given up my studies to fight with him. Meeting Heather really brought back memories. But it also makes me want to help her raise and spread the awareness of Lung Leavin’ Day. If anyone out there is or have been affected by cancer in any way, don’t hide. Come out. Speak out. Don’t fear it. Instead, let it fear you. Write those fears and toss it into the fire. And don’t shut loved ones away. Let them help.
So here is my contribution to Lung Leavin’ Day. Just so you know, I couldn’t throw my plate into the fire. I live in a community where it’s impossible to have a ‘fire’. I am not trying to break or change Heather’s tradition. However, I still wanted to show my support, except that it had to be done in my kitchen. Heather, I don’t just want to write this post to help raise and spread the awareness. I want to show that I do care. So if it means that I can’t have fire, doesn’t mean I can’t smash a plate in the honour of Lung Leavin’ Day.
Sure, I have accidentally broken plates before, but this time was different. There was a purpose. I know it sounds silly, but I actually felt kind of nervous before smashing the plate. Instead of writing down the fears (due to personal reasons to be shown here), I shouted out the fears in my kitchen. Here’s to the fears, and to you, Father, and Heather.
It felt good afterwards. Really good. Not fun, because this is not a game, but good. There’s a difference. For me, breaking the plate was symbolic. It was a way of smashing those fears and saying ‘yes, I can smash you into pieces’. Same thing goes for smashing it into the fire. In fact, I think that would have been much more powerful.
Many of us live in fear everyday, or there are fears that surrounds/consumes us. Remember that we only live once. We’ll never know what will happen to us in the next second, the next hour, or the next day. But we can just live and appreciate the life we are in. Don’t allow fear to live our life.
I hope there will be many others who will support Lung Leavin’ Day. As of now, apart from myself, my blog is an official supporter of Lung Leavin’ Day with its image (below) on the side of the blog, which will direct you to Heather’s blog once you click on it. I did not become a supporter for any other reasons apart from the fact that we cannot give up and let cancer, or any fear (cancer-related or not), beat us and bring us down. It brought me down 14 years ago and almost emotionally destroyed me. But I wanted to make my father proud. So I pursed something that I knew my father would be proud of (and something that I love to do). Heather thought she only had 15 months to live. Now look at her. Let us ‘smash’ Lung Leavin’ Day and keep on fighting.
If you want to know more about mesothelioma, just click on the links below.
Thank you, Heather, for being an inspiration. You are a true fighter.