When Mona Leingang lost her husband, Gary, to brain cancer in 2010, she wanted to honor his wish that something good come out of his illness. The next year, on his birthday, May 9, Leingang passed out gray ribbons to her students at St. George's Episcopal School. She worked with Louisiana lawmakers to establish Louisiana Gray Day. Today, the New Orleans City Council, the Louisiana State Legislature and the U.S. Senate have all recognized Louisiana Gray Day on May 9 during Brain Cancer Awareness Month.
How did Louisiana Gray Day get off the ground?
Mona Leingang: Gray Day started at my school. I teach at St. George's School. I teach children with dyslexia, mostly, in small reading groups. It was my husband's first birthday that I was back at work, and I didn't know what I was going to do with myself. And I went to the headmaster and asked if I could distribute ribbons to everybody. So everyone in the school was wearing gray ribbons. I also went around and distributed them in the neighborhood. The following year, I was able to get proclamations issued by the New Orleans City Council, Harahan, Kenner and Jefferson Parish [city councils]. And then the next year, the Louisiana Legislature passed the day, making it an annual brain cancer awareness day. That was 2013. Then, in 2014, [U.S. Sen.] Mary Landrieu announced it in the Senate. I have a copy of that. She put it into the official record.
What will you and your students do to observe Louisiana Gray Day this year?
Mona Leingang: This year, my school will all be in gray again on May 8. On May 9, I am going to be throwing out the first pitch at the UNO baseball game. They will be in their gray uniforms, which is really cool. Gary and I both graduated from UNO.
I'm an ambassador for a national organization called Voices Against Brain Cancer. This year they are coming in to host with us Louisiana Gray Day, and a press conference and rally in Duncan Plaza on May 12. Mary Landrieu will be the speaker, and we are going to pass out special recognition awards to St. George's for starting it, and to members of my family.
What is the significance of honoring one special day within the month to raise awareness for the disease?
Mona Leingang: It's kind of like April, with Autism Awareness Month, and April 2 was Light It Up Blue Day. May is Brain Cancer Awareness Month, so May 9 is [designated] to give a special focus during the month, specifically on Louisiana Gray Day.
Why is it important to raise awareness of brain cancer?
Mona Leingang: There is nothing you can do to prevent (brain cancer) that's known at this time. Research is desperately needed. With awareness, people start raising funds and then hopefully there's enough funds in enough places to find a cure, or to extend life. It is a really dire prognosis. There are some people who live longer than others, but it seems to reoccur.
Is there a place people can donate if they can't attend the rally?
Mona Leingang: Voices Against Brain Cancer is coming back in October to host a family walk/run for the LSU Health Sciences Center. When they go into a city and host an event, 100 percent of profits stays in that city. So I was asked to select where that money went, and I selected the LSU Health Sciences Center. I would encourage people to donate straight to Voices Against Brain Cancer. They are getting all the permits, they're bringing in a PA system to Duncan Plaza, the head of the organization is coming in here to be at this event. So the money they have to put out comes directly from donations. They do not take any of the money that's made in any of the cities, and they're staffed mostly by volunteers.