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About My Mother . . . and LungLeavin’ Day


Karen Sue Gunderson

Where in the hell were your parents?!” is usually what I hear after someone learns about my traumatic past. Heck, even my Dad asked the same thing one Spring evening when I shared the dark details: “Where was I, when all this was happening?” Several years ago, I posted a piece about my dad. Now, it’s time to tell you about my mother.

But before I do that. I need to tell you about Heather and Cameron Von St. James.

Cameron sent me an email. Here’s what he said:

 I am reaching out to you today because of your blog! My name is Cameron Von St. James and I’m a husband to one of the strongest people I know. Eight years ago, after our only child was born, my wife Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma – a rare cancer caused only by asbestos exposure. My wife’s chronic illness taught us the importance of acknowledging and overcoming our fears, something that prevent us all from living life to the fullest.

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.

Wow! I don’t know many people who would find a way to laugh about loosing a LUNG . . . a lung, people! As Cameron mentioned, when faced with a life altering event or chronic condition, fear can leap upon our hearts rendering us powerless to find our way out of the fog. As I read his email, I thought about you, dear survivor. Fear is the jailer that keeps people with Post Traumatic Stress locked away believing there is something so terribly wrong with them, they’ll have to live with it forever.

I also thought about my mother.

Karen Sue Brown (Lindsay-Gunderson) died at the age of 45 from lung cancer. Like Heather, it was a rare diagnosis for a woman in 1992, who had never smoked or worked in an industrial environment. Her brief nine month fight with the disease cracked her open to fears she never knew existed . . . and never spoke about . . . to anyone.

It was only after she’d passed, perusing through her myriad books on the subject of cancer, that I was able to gather a sense of her state of mind in those last few months – and quite possibly, how she secretly dealt with everything life brought. Since she was a woman who placed more stock in facts and logic that upheld her view of perfection than the dirty, gritty reality of life, I wasn’t surprised to find those books well read. However, I was surprised to find she had only highlighted information about how much worse her cancer was likely to get, completely ignoring references to the possibility of healing.

My mother’s fear had killed her and fear was killing me, too.

Talk about up a creek without a paddle . . . this is me at age 11. The photo was taken by the man who abducted me during the 2 week ordeal.

Talk about up a creek without a paddle . . . this is me at age 11. The photo was taken by the man who abducted me during the 2 week ordeal.

I was transported in time, sitting before my mother, who’s angry and glaring because of an embarrassing phone call from my friend’s mother (You need to have a conversation with your daughter. She has something extremely important to tell you.). That’s when I finally told an adult about the least offensive act I could think of that had taken place at the hands of a predatory pedophile during my ‘abduction’ the year prior.

He took pictures of me.

Without her eyes softening, hands still on her hips, she asked only one stern question, “Did he hurt you?”

It had been more than a year since my Great Aunt’s husband had taken me to a remote location in the Canadian wilderness. Any physical wounds I’d suffered had long since healed. But I still felt terrible. It was a deep emotional pain that defied the vocabulary of an eleven-year-old girl.


Mother spun on her heel and headed straight for the telephone. We never spoke of it again.

Staring at piles of highlighted cancer books, I came face-to-face with the power of the mind to manifest our reality. It’s been said that what you think about, you bring about. In the case of my mother, she was terrified, suffering silently and not just since her diagnosis. It’s my belief that fear prevented my mother from being emotionally expressive and the stress of holding a lifetime of anguish inside her, manifested in disease at her body’s weakest point – asthmatic lungs.

The added stress of fearing for her life, her family and the grandchild she had only begun to know, moved the cancer through her system swiftly. My own fears about whether or not I carried cancerous genes and could live beyond the age of forty-five had only just begun upon her death. Compounding my fear was the acknowledgment that I’d been running from a very dark and painful past. I was diagnosed that same year with PTSD. For me, the cost of fear was death – clearly far too high a price to pay.


Happy, healthy, whole me 🙂

Last year (2013) marked a turning point. As of October, I’ve lived three months longer than my mother. I’m the healthiest I’ve been, since playing varsity softball in high school. I spend more time on preventive health care than treating illness (I rarely get sick anymore) enjoying yoga, paddle boarding, kayaking, hiking and eating clean foods. Clear and healthy boundaries are now a part of my new life, meaning that I’m not a doormat anymore. Loving, vibrant, positive people surround me; the neg-heads and haters, as my son likes to call them, are gone.

The best part? I’ve been PTSD symptom free for eight years, and I’m not afraid anymore.

No more looking over my shoulder, waiting for the next PTSD trigger to steamroll me into oblivion! I’ve accomplished the measure of healing I set out to achieve and then some. With that in my back pocket, I have the confidence to do anything. You will too.

Thanks, Heather and Cameron, for LungLeavin’ Day, for thinking of PTSD survivors and for including them in your initiative to eliminate fear. Tell us more about 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 throug

h 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.

LLD-TalkingPlateThis year, we are asking others to participate in LungLeavin’ Day! We’ve created an interactive page that tells the full story of this special day, which can be found here or by clicking on the cartoon plate.

I’d love for you to check out the page and help spread the word about LungLeavin’ Day! It would mean so much to Heather and I.

Thanks so much for your time!


Won’t you join me? Let’s help Heather and Cameron spread the word about facing down our fears and walking into a life we were meant to live . . . a life WORTH living!

Oh, and by the way, I don’t have ANY  fears about whether or not the Seattle Seahawks will win Superbowl XLVIII !!! GO HAWKS !!!




2 responses »

  1. This is an amazing story! Thank you for sharing it and thank you for healing not just for yourself buts king healing from PTSD available to others


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