A Victory for My Village

by Guest Author on July 27, 2012

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.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Hembree July 27, 2012 at 8:17 am

When cancer comes into your life, everything else stops. Courageous woman, powerful story.


Laura H. July 27, 2012 at 9:01 am

Wow. What an amazing story–what sacrifices you had to make. A million congratulations on whipping that terrible disease and a million high-fives at your courage! Well done! All the best–


SH July 27, 2012 at 9:23 am

You are truly an inspiration to have conquered such a challenge and to have done so with grace, strength and courage. Thank you for this reminder of the importance of life, friends and family.


wendy @ mama one to three July 27, 2012 at 9:50 am

Amazing and wonderful story. I hope you and any mom diagnosed with cancer is always blessed and healed!


Sarah K July 28, 2012 at 5:37 pm

What an amazing story. You are so brave and inspiring. It’s harder and harder to find a village these days. I’m glad that you had such a good one during such a difficult time. Thanks for sharing your story. You are amazing.


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