By Heather Von St. James
Expecting the birth of a child is one of the most exciting times in the life of any woman. My first daughter, Lily, was born on the 4th of August in 2005. The pregnancy and birth managed to bring my group of family and friends close together. I have always referred to this core group of support people as “my village.”
I returned to working when Lily reached one month. I did not feel completely normal, but chalked it up to post baby blues. As my physical condition continued to deteriorate I knew that my problem was something deeper. I went to my doctor and received a diagnosis that left me completely devastated.
My daughter, now 3 1/2 moths old, and I should have been celebrating life to the fullest. However, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma on the 21st of November. The big C; cancer was thrown my way with little preparation and the cancer stemmed from a exposure to asbestos that had occurred 30 years ago when I was a little child.
I was only given 15 more months to live unless I underwent treatment right away. With my husband and baby at the forefront of my mind I knew I needed to step up and battle this terrible disease. The best possible treatment was necessary if I was to remove this obstacle that had brought so much sadness and despair to my village.
My husband and I decided to seek out the best medical care available from a doctor in Boston who had developed a good reputation. Our little Lily went to live with my parents in South Dakota. They had graciously stepped up and offered their services and this took a serious burden off of my family. On the February 2nd, 2006 I underwent an extrapleural pneumonectomy. This procedure involved the removal of the diseased lung and the tissue that surround the area. I had to spend 18 days in the hospital and then recover at home for two additional months before I could face the next hurdles of chemo and radiation therapy.
My formerly small village continued to grow through my surgery and recovery. While undergoing treatment in Boston we met many families and individuals who were undergoing the same trials as we were. We offered support and in turn took support from them. Lily also developed a village, as did my parents who were caring for her in South Dakota. I cannot express in words how touched we were for the outpouring of support that Lily received in my childhood hometown.
The good news is that there is a happy ending to this story, as I am now free from the clutches of the deadly cancer. While I missed some of Lily’s development, I will continue to live to see her grow. I write this memoir to remind everyone of the preciousness and fragility of life. We must appreciate and expand our village each day that we are alive.
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.