When Heather emailed me about guest posting about her battle with Mesothelioma, I decided to agree right away. I know this isn't craft related, but I think it is important to help spread awareness. I hope you'll read Heather's story and if you want to learn more you can visit her blog.
Many of you may have heard the saying “it takes a village” which means that in the best and worst of times, you can count on loved ones to surround you. My time of joy came on August 4th, 2005 when my daughter Lily was born through an emergency C-section. I went through a normal uneventful pregnancy without complication. During this joyous event, we were surrounded by our “village” – my parents, my husband’s family and many friends who came by to see Lily and congratulate us. With such a perfect event in our lives, we could never be prepared for the upcoming days of turmoil.
I returned to work when Lily was just one month old which is when things took a turn for the worst. I began feeling lethargic with a loss of breath. I wondered if it were due to the fact I just became a new mom. Not sure of the feelings I was having, I decided to visit my doctor. A diagnosis was made through various tests and the results were devastating.
Lily was only a young 3-1/2 months on November 21, 2005 when I learned I had malignant pleural mesothelioma, which is a cancer in the lining of the lung. Mesothelioma is largely caused by an exposure to asbestos. Without my knowledge, I was exposed to asbestos as a child and now 30 years later the cancer symptoms have surfaced. I never thought that these feelings of what I believed were feelings of a new mom were actually symptoms of mesothelioma.
When I got the news of the diagnosis, stating I would have 15 months to live, my thoughts were not that of myself but about my baby and my husband. I knew at that point I needed to do whatever I could to save my life. With such a grim prognosis for mesothelioma, we knew we had to take drastic measures. We were offered the best treatment for this cancer. My husband and I flew to Boston to get that treatment from one of the best mesothelioma doctors. They suggested surgery and on February 2nd I had an extrapleural pneumonectomy, which consisted of removal of my left lung and its surrounding tissue. My hospital stay lasted 18 days followed by two months of recovery with chemotherapy and radiation. What a realm of events to go through as a brand new mom. While we were in Boston, we were surrounded by many new friends experiencing the same as we were. Such a support system between all of us managed to get us from one day to the next.
During our stay in Boston, Lily resided with my parents. They suddenly were raising her rather than spoiling her like grandparents do. They too had their own village. Mom and dad both worked full time and was gratefully able to turn to some girls I used to babysit for. These girls are now grown with children of their own. Additionally, my parents had a full support system with others I grew up with at our church.
Lily learned many new things while staying with my parents in my childhood home in South Dakota, such as eating food, scooting and rolling over. I had to witness these amazing first time events through the black and white photos mom emailed to me at the hospital. Of course I had to share them with the nurses so they could ooh and aah over my baby girl. After all, Lily was the reason I was fighting this fight for my life. However, I know she is in the best of hands despite the distance between us.
We don’t know what we would have done without our village, full of their support, love and prayers. Our village came from all walks of life – many we did not even expect came to support us. The unexpected were there while the expected steered clear. Cancer can really open your eyes to who you really can count on.
One of my favorite quotes is “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” We fully believe we must embrace life. No one promised life to be easy as it can be very fragile and unpredictable. We just do the best we can. We never know what to expect, even through a cancer diagnosis. Through the turmoil came a lot of good of which I am very grateful.
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