Today I received an email from Cameron asking me to share with you his wife Heather's story. Although her story is truly remarkable, what captured my attention and my heart is how they have chosen to live on after her recovery.
3 1/2 months after their daughter was born, Heather, aged 36, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that is only caused by asbestos exposure. She was told she would have 15 months to live but she's still alive and 8 years later, her family is asking that her story be shared.
Following the surgery that saved Heather's life, her family and friends have chosen to celebrate. Cameron writes:
"This February 2nd marks the 8th anniversary of Heather’s life saving surgery, which involved a risky procedure requiring the removal of her left lung. It is a very special day to me and is considered one of the memorable days of my life! We’ve coined this day as LungLeavin’ Day.
The purpose of LungLeavin’ Day is to encourage and empower others battling their own illnesses and life challenges to face their fears! On this day we celebrate for those who are no longer with us, for those who continue to fight, for those who are currently going through a tough time in their life, and most importantly, we celebrate life! Each year, friends and family gather at our house around a bonfire where we write our fears on a plate and smash them into the fire to represent conquering our fears".
Fear is a crippling emotion, it has a paralyzing effect, and if we let it, it stops us from being able to live our lives fully. In 2012, I threw myself out of a (perfectly good!) plane in the hopes that it would eradicate my fear of dying. That's a pretty extreme reaction, but then it was a pretty extreme fear. I wouldn't say that it cured my fear entirely, but it was exhilarating in that moment to give my fear the big middle finger.
Previously I had felt like I failed my treatment graduation because I continued to be tormented by the experience of having been diagnosed with cancer, or more accurately by the lingering and persistent fears that had been left behind.
"Would the cancer come back?"
"Would I know if it had?"
"Would my children have to grow up without a mother?" And so many more...
But far more damaging than the fear of death and recurrence, was my belief that I should just "get over it". I added an unnecessary pressure to my recovery by believing that my feelings were a problem that I needed to eliminate. That was a totally unrealistic expectation, and an unhealthy one to boot! Researchers in oncological psychology report that the fears can persist for years after cancer therapy has been completed. Fears of death and recurrence are a part of the full cancer experience but what no-one seems to warn you about is how pervasive and long lasting these fears may be.
Which brings me back to Lung Leavin' Day. What is so magical about Lung Leavin' Day, is that it acknowledges that these fears exist and it creates a space for those fears to be acknowledged and then symbolically smashed. When we can acknowledge and share our fears, it helps to keep them from growing out of hand. And it helps us to realise that everyone experiences fear in their life.
This year I would love to join Heather and her family by celebrating life, and smashing my fears! What fears would you like to throw into the fire? I'd encourage you to share them here, and together, we will see that none of us are alone.
"With Hope, the Odds Don't Matter".