Monday, January 14, 2013

Guest Post: Cancer and Its Hard Lessons



Please join me in welcoming Heather Von St James to this space to share an extremely difficult journey with cancer. Her story reminds us that dangerous chemical exposure can have drastic consequences.

Heather and Lily
I’ve know that there is no such thing as a perfect life, but at 36, I often thought I was living one. My baby daughter Lily was born on August 4, 2005, and with my friends and family around me, I felt so warm and safe. Nothing in those first few months of her lives could have hinted at the dark times that were to come for my family and me.

Less than four months after Lily was born, on the fateful date of November 21, 2005, I was diagnosed with cancer. Malignant pleural mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure, and it attacks the lining of the lung. I had been exposed as a child, and suddenly, all of my recent fatigue and extreme weight loss made a great deal more sense.

The only thing I could think of when I first got the diagnosis was my daughter. I heard that without treatment, I only had about 15 months to live, and when I looked at my husband, I could see that we were in total agreement. We would do whatever we had to do to save my life, because we couldn’t imagine him and Lily going on without me.

With a prognosis that grim, we opted for the most aggressive treatment that we could. My husband and I traveled to Boston to speak with one of the best mesothelioma doctors in the world, and on February 2, 2006, I had my left lung removed in a surgery known as an extrapleural pneumenectomy. I recovered in the hospital for 18 days, and eventually I went to South Dakota to recover with my parents and my baby girl for another two months. Then I started the round of chemotherapy and radiation.

During this time, I was trying to be the best new mom I could be, but I certainly had help. While I was in Boston, my mom took care of Lily in South Dakota, and from her reports, the whole town came out to help. It was not easy for them, but I will forever be grateful to my parents for making the leap from grandparents to full time caretakers.

Though I missed out many firsts of Lily’s-- learning to eat foods, to roll and to scoot herself around, I did see some of it. My mother emailed us photos of my daughter, and I could see these pictures when my husband printed them off for me on the community printers.
Heather and her family


We as a family have a much different outlook on life now. We have learned to embrace what life throws at us, and we always remember to laugh. Cancer taught me that, as well as many other hard lessons. Though I was angry and afraid at first, time has taught me to be thankful. And that is a message I hope to pass on to anyone going through a hard time. That there is always good that will come out of the situation. It just might take a while to see.







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.

10 comments:

  1. Amazing story! Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  2. This is such an inspiration - seeing someone cope through something so difficult really puts everything else in life into perspective.

    Thanks so much for linking up!

    Sarah @ A Cat-Like Curiosity

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    1. It really does put everything into perspective. I had to cope with something very difficult when my youngest daughter was born, but it was not life threatening. This makes my problems seem so small.

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  3. Thanks for sharing your touching and inspirational story.

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    1. It was my pleasure to share it here. I loved reading it too!

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  4. I can't even imagine what she had to go through. It's amazing the strength that some people have. Thanks for sharing this story.

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  5. Thanks so much to Heather for sharing her story and Becki, for posting! I find her story inspiring and underscores the moral urgency for addressing toxic substances in this country. Here is another great post from Heather on our website too! http://blog.saferchemicals.org/2012/06/confronting-mesothelioma.html

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  6. Heather, this is especially disturbing to hear that you were exposed as a child. And researchers tell us even more substances -- allowed today in commmon products -- could be exposing our children to increased risk of cancer. Public education is so important as more parents all for the Safe Chemicals Act.

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  7. My grandfather died from mesothelioma after being exposed while serving in the military. He was lucky to have lived to see his children grow, grandchildren, and even get to know a few great-grandchildren. It is a horrible disease and even worse to have to go through it when you are so young. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope this brings awareness and advocacy for the Safe Chemicals Act!

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