**What you are about to read is the account of a mom’s battle with malignant pleural mesothelioma. It’s a true story, sad and yet, very touching. I felt compelled to help her spread the word of her battle – a battle that any mother could be a victim to. Today, Heather’s hope is to bring awareness to this awful disease and how it took a village to help her through a very difficult time of her life.**
I had heard “it takes a village to raise a child,” but I never understood it until after
I had my daughter. When she was born on August 4, 2005, I had no clue that my life was about to change in ways I couldn’t imagine.
Upon returning to work, I experienced a constant tiredness and shortness of breath. I was tempted to dismiss it as normal, new-motherhood exhaustion, but couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that something else was wrong.
After a full battery of tests, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the tissue that lines the lungs. Apparently, I had been exposed to asbestos as a child, causing me to suddenly develop this deadly cancer 30 years later.
The date was November 21, 2005. Lily was just three and a half months old.
When the doctor said that I could have as little as 15 months to live, all I could
think about was Lily and my husband. I could not bear the thought of not being
there with them. I resolved, right then, to accept whatever aggressive treatment
for mesothelioma was necessary to save my life.
I had an extrapleural pneumenectomy, or surgery to remove my left lung, on
February 2, 2006. It was done in Boston by one of the best mesothelioma
doctors in the country. Two months after the surgery, I began chemotherapy and
radiation treatments. The entire process was torturous, to say the least.
While I was in Boston, Lily was living with my parents in South Dakota. My
mesothelioma had had forced my parents to switch from being doting
grandparents to taking full charge responsibility of a tiny baby. Luckily, they
quickly learned that a village surrounded them as well.
Love, support, and assistance poured out from friends, neighbors, and church
members. While both of my parents worked full time, an entire system of
volunteers pitched in to care for Lily and to provide extra assistance on evenings
and weekends. Our family could not have survived without this village.
In Boston, we discovered another village, made up of people who were
undergoing the same experience. These people, like no others, could
understand the tremendous highs and lows of our emotional lives.
Meanwhile, Lily continued to grow. I missed her transition to eating solid food
and watching her roll over and scoot around. The pictures my parents emailed
were great, but they didn’t stop me from missing her terribly. It was hard not to
cry, knowing that I could never recover her babyhood.
However, I knew that I had to fight and endure whatever treatment was
necessary in order to survive to raise my daughter. Today we take life one day at
a time and try to live each day as fully as possible, knowing that it can be
snatched away in a heartbeat.
Cancer is a terrible experience. We learned to find the good in the bad and to
embrace the village for their love and help. Welcome your village. Be sure to
thank them and never forget to smile.
Heather Von St James is a 43-year-old wife and mother. Upon her diagnosis of mesothelioma, she vowed to be a source of hope for other patients who found themselves with the same diagnosis. Now, over 6 years later, her story has been helping people all over the globe. She continues her advocacy and awareness work by blogging, speaking and sharing her message of hope and healing with others. Check out her story at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.