This is quite a story that you’re about to read and I’m honored that it was shared with me and that I am able to share it with you. Heather is a reader of Zehlahlum Family (which I totally appreciate!), a mother, an optimist, and a master of understatement. She said she reached out to me because the beginning of her life with her daughter was also “a little more turbulent than she would have hoped for.”
Optimism has been my strong suit for many years. As far as I can remember, my outlook on life has been positive. While some might call this wearing eyeglasses with a rose tinted view, I consider it the better option to dealing with life’s circumstances. Even when things look bad, they have to get better, right? Right.
Unexpectedly, my rose tinted glasses became a thistle of thorns. Unexpectedly, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma on Nov 21, 2005. How could this happen to a 36-year-old vibrant, optimistic woman with a three and a half month old baby? Well, my years of optimism were about to be tested like no other time in my life.
No one expects to receive such devastating news about their health. This is something that happens to other people. My life had become a contradiction. During a time when I should be experiencing the joys of motherhood, I was experiencing life-altering questions that threatened my chances of being a new mom.
It was after hearing this shocking news that I knew I had a choice. I could surrender to the fate this horrible disease had for me. I could curse God and use my energy to wallow in self-pity, complain and die.
Or, I could choose to look this diagnosis square in the face and fight, literally, for my life. I chose the latter. I knew that this fight was not just for me; it was also for my beautiful baby girl. She needed her mother.
For many people who receive a cancer diagnosis, cancer can become a double-edged sword. Hearing the doctor say, “you have cancer” is a kick in the gut experience. At the same time, those three words can become a motivator to not give up, to become stronger and focus on beating this disease.
I replaced fear with optimism and refused to become a victim to cancer. My determination extended beyond myself; I knew I had to use this experience to help others who would hear the same three words. This became an opportunity to offer hope to others, to share my lifelong optimism.
It is easy to lose hope after hearing a mesothelioma prognosis, or any other type of cancer. To do this, I had to find the good in this situation. I received care from the world’s leading specialist in mesothelioma. They gave me hope to believe I was not a victim, but rather, a victor in fighting this cancer battle.
I even gave my malignant tumor a nickname – Punxsutawney Phil. Groundhogs Day, 2006, was the day Punxsutawney Phil would be removed from my body. In turn, Groundhogs Day became “Lungleavin Day”, the day my lung was removed from my body. Each year since, we celebrate Lungleavin Day as a day when not only my lung left, but also the fear about this situation. On Lungleavin day, we have a bonfire in the dead of winter and over 75 friends and family attend. We all write our fears down on plates and smash them into the fire. It has become an epic tradition of ours over the years and everybody loves being a part of it.
We celebrate the fact that optimism won; fear lost. This is a celebration of the many things that have been added to my life. I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people. Without this cancer diagnosis, I would not have met so many strong, passionate and committed individuals who are dedicated to increasing mesothelioma awareness. These warriors have become my friends.
People whose lives have been altered by mesothelioma have added to my purpose in life. I can share my optimism and offer hope to others.
I say that Heather’s bravery far surpasses my own. You can read more of her story at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog. Thank you again for sharing, Heather!
If any of my other readers have a story that they’d like to share, please email me: zehlahlum @ gmail dot com.