Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Guest Post: Heather Von St. James

I was contacted several weeks ago about doing a guest post.  Heather is a survivor of mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer.  She strives to raise public awareness of asbestos exposure and has created an online support community for others undergoing mesothelioma treatment.  Here is her story:

A New Mother, Fighting for Her Life

One of the most eventful times in a woman’s life is when she’s expecting a baby and that was no exception for me. My pregnancy was normal, feeling each movement and kick of the little one growing inside.  My husband, his family, my family, and many dear friends – whom I lovingly refer to as my “village” – were there for me throughout the pregnancy, as well as my child’s entrance into this world.  My daughter, Lily, was born on August 4, 2005.  It all seemed so perfect.

Much earlier than I wanted to, I returned to work when Lily was approximately a month old.  Although I did not feel well, I thought it was just a case of the “baby blues”.  I did not have any energy and experienced difficulty catching my breath. After undergoing various tests, on November 21, 2005, I was diagnosed as having malignant pleural mesothelioma.  I was devastated. There I stood with a three-and-a-half month old baby girl – one of the most joyous times in my life – and was slapped with the news that I had cancer.  Having been exposed to asbestos as a child, 30 years ago, the lining in one of my lungs had been disturbed, and there I was.  

To make matters worse, unless I started immediate treatment, my doctor gave me a life expectancy of 15 months. I could not imagine my husband and baby girl having to live without me. I knew I had to do whatever it took to beat this “monster” that had stormed into our lives.  While my parents cared for Lily, in my  home of South Dakota, I began my quest for the best possible treatment. After much research, my husband and I were off to Boston to seek the help of one of the best mesothelioma specialists in the country.

On February 2, 2006, I underwent a surgery called extrapleural pneumonectomy, where the affected lung was removed, along with the surrounding tissue.  My hospital recovery time was 18 days, followed by an additional two months of healing, after which I moved on to radiation and chemotherapy.  

While in Boston, my village grew.  We met families going through the same traumatic experience.  They leaned on us and we leaned back for some extremely beneficial support.  While building our circle of support in Boston, my parents were doing the same in South Dakota.  Girls whom I had babysat were now babysitting my Lily. Their support means more to me than words could ever express.

When I first welcomed Lily into this world, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would have to battle mesothelioma in the first chapter of her life. I had to experience many of her “firsts” through photos.  It was my love for her and my village, and their support, that gave me the strength to battle this disease and reach for the stars.  I eventually recovered and am now cancer-free.  Never take anything in life for granted, for nothing is guaranteed.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment