We value our family and friends not only during the best times of our lives, but most importantly the worst. This would become reality for me in 2005, when one of the most blessed times in my life would be followed by tragedy. On August 5, 2005, as my husband and I were surrounded by our family and friends we welcomed our baby girl, Lily, into the world. Although we had to deal with the stress of an emergency C-section, everything turned out fine and Lily was born with no complications. With the joy of new parenthood, we had no idea what heartache wewould soon be facing.
About a month after returning to work from maternity leave, I started to feel that something wasn’t right. I was constantly exhausted, energy deprived, and short of breath. Although these are normal ailments for any new mother to experience, I decided to go with my instincts and make an appointment to see my doctor. After undergoing several tests, the doctor confirmed my fears that there was something seriously wrong with me.
On November 21, 2005 I was diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer. Malignant pleural mesothelioma, which was the
exact diagnosis, is a deadly kind of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs. This type of cancer is usually brought on by exposure to asbestos, which I was unknowingly exposed to during childhood. Just months after giving birth to our beautiful daughter, I was being told that without treatment, I would only have 15 months to live. The thought of leaving my husband and daughter to a future without their wife and mother had me distraught. With the life we
built together being threatened, my husband and I immediately knew we would take even the drastic of measures to fight it.
The months to follow would be the hardest of our lives. With Lily safely being cared for by my parents, in my childhood home in South Dakota, my husband and I headed to Boston to seek treatment from one of the best mesothelioma doctors in the nation. On February 2, 2006, I underwent an extrapleural pneumenectomy, a procedure requiring the removal of my left lung and all surrounding tissue. The surgery was followed by an 18 day hospital stay for recovery.
After successfully undergoing the surgery and recovery period, I still had to recover for 2 more months before I could then begin chemotherapy and radiation.
Today I am cancer free and I attribute that gratefully to our special circle of family and friends. If not for my parents there to help raise Lily and the friends who helped at every turn, my success story may have had a different ending. We must remember that most life lessons come from our biggest hurdles. The most important lesson for us was to value the people in your life and you will never stand-alone.
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.