THE BLOG
01/15/2014 04:54 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2014

LungLeavin' Day: How We Turned Something Tragic Into Something Good

A sense of humor can help get you through the scariest of times; poking fun at something takes the fear away. Humor is the way that my husband Cameron and I handled one of the most terrifying and trying times in our lives. I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in November of 2005 and, after a series of biopsies and other tests, it was determined I was a candidate for a surgery called an extrapleural pneumonectomy. It's a huge surgery that includes the removal of the affected lung, pleura (the lining around the lung where the cancer was), the left half of my diaphragm and the lining of my heart; both my diaphragm and heart lining were replaced with surgical gortex. My sixth rib was also removed so the surgeon would have better access to the chest cavity.

This is no routine surgery, and it was made worse by the fact that I was a new mom. My baby would be turning six months old two days after my surgery. When I found out my surgery date was February 2nd, I nicknamed my tumor Punxsutawney Phil, or just Phil for short. I joked about when they removed the tumor, asking if it saw its shadow, would I have six more weeks of recovery? It took the seriousness of the procedure and made it not as scary. Throughout all of this, my sister kept me laughing. We share the same weird sense of humor and we can always make each other laugh with just a silly phrase or sound. She's the one who came up with the idea to celebrate the day of my surgery. If it was going to save my life, why not celebrate? Now, we refer to February 2nd not as Groundhog Day, but LungLeavin' Day -- the day my lung left.

My husband and sister started talking about how we should celebrate such a day. One usually doesn't celebrate a surgery, but being who we are, we decided that we should. The main idea of writing fears on a plate and smashing them into a fire during LungLeavin' Day came from my sister, who had done firewalking. In firewalking, you write your fears on a plank of wood, throw it in the fire, and walk across it -- very symbolic. But instead of wood, my husband came up with the idea of plate. Plus, we figured not too many people really want to firewalk. From there a tradition was born.

My husband and sister started talking about how we should celebrate such a day. The basic idea for the celebration also came from my sister, who had done firewalking. In firewalking, you write your fears on a plank of wood, throw it in the fire, and walk across it -- very symbolic. We decided to do something like that, but instead of wood, my husband came up with the idea of plate, and instead of actually walking through the fire, we would smash the plate. (We figured not too many people really want to firewalk.) From there a tradition was born.

On February 2nd, 2007, one year to the day since my surgery, my husband went out and bought two stoneware plates and a sharpie. We spent a few minutes writing our fears on them before venturing outside. It was bitterly cold that evening, but that didn't stop us. Cams cleaned out the fire pit, and got a nice little fire going. We bundled up and went out to the fire, just the two of us, and smashed our fears in the fire. It felt GOOD! It felt so good, we decided right then and there that we needed to share this with our friends and family.

The next year, we had a proper celebration, and every year since then our little party has grown to include over 75 friends and family who come to celebrate life with us. The last couple of years, Cams and I felt the need to give back and started using the occasion as a fundraiser for mesothelioma cancer. We donate all the money raised to the three organizations that have been such an important part of our lives. The International Mesothelioma Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization are all such an important part of who we are and what we do, and giving back is important to us.

The celebration is not just for cancer survivors or warriors, it's for everyone. Each individual has a fear to overcome. We even get the kids involved! We give paper plates to the little kids and let them write things they are afraid of too, so they can throw their plates and fears into the fire. My daughter Lily has a lot of great memories from past celebrations and looks forward to it every year as well.

This year, we wanted to reach out to an even broader base of people, and besides webcasting the event live via my Facebook page, we've also launched an interactive page where you can go write your fear and smash your own plate virtually.

We hope that you take a moment on February 2nd to be thankful for the simple things, and all that life offers. Even in the face of adversity, something good can come of it, and our LungLeavin' Day celebration is how we took something tragic, and made it a positive in our lives. Happy LungLeavin' Day!