Skip to main content

Thoughts from a Cancer Survivor



Guest Post
By Heather Von St. James
Courageous mother, wife, writer and cancer survivor


My First Year of Motherhood and My Battle with Mesothelioma

My first year of motherhood was an amazing prospect.  My friends and family reminded me that it would take a village to raise my child, but I had no idea just how true this was.  Neither did I realize just how important my village would become.  

I gave birth to Lily on August 4, 2005.  The emergency C-section was the only complication of the entire pregnancy, but holding my daughter was worth it.  My own village quickly surrounded me, and things were wonderful.  I expected that my recovery from the C-section would be a little challenging, but when I returned to work two months later, I was still very fatigued.  I was also breathless and this really disturbed me.  

I made an appointment with my doctor.  After a battery of tests, he found the problem.  A diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma stunned me.  Asbestos exposure is usually the cause of this deadly disease and I had been exposed during my childhood 30 years earlier.  Without treatment I could expect to live 15 months at most.  I wasn’t about to settle for that and my husband and I made plans to pursue the most drastic treatment for mesothelioma possible.

We left Lily with my parents in my childhood home of South Dakota and then flew to Boston.  On February 2, 2006, my left lung was removed by one of the best mesothelioma doctors available.  I had a great support team in the hospital.  An 18 day recovery in the hospital was followed by a 2 month recovery period at home. Then came chemotherapy and radiation. It was hard, but I was battling on behalf of Lily and my husband. Easy wasn’t promised and we took every day in stride.

My parents’ village was right there to help.  Some friends filled in as babysitters as my parents worked full-time.  Others provided meals and moral support.  Some that we might have expected to help were noticeably absent.  It’s strange that cancer has such a varied effect on people.  My parents kept me posted on Lily’s progress by sending pictures and updates.  She learned a lot in our absence and I missed her desperately. I didn’t want to miss seeing her grow up, though, and I knew that this was the best effort I could make in order to be there in her future.  

I will always be thankful for my village and its influence during this time.  My nurses supported me during my treatment.  My friends and family supported from a distance.  My husband and I couldn’t have managed without any of them.  We have grown so much because of this challenge and it has made us stronger in ways that we never would have imagined.  Having Lily back with us after the treatment was amazing.  

Life is precious because it is fragile.  In times of need, having a village can make a difference in making it possible to overcome obstacles.  Embracing struggles and victories is important and having a support system makes a world of difference.  Be thankful for your own village and be sure to thank them when they are there for you.

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 theMesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.


Popular posts from this blog

The Light in the Faces of Our Incredible Human Family

National Geographic Journalist Paul Salopek is walking across the world on foot to trace the pathways of the first humans who wandered out of Africa in the Stone Age to claim the earth as theirs. His journey will cover 21,000 miles and is estimated to take 10 years. He is four years into his massive expedition and already he has discovered that humanity is mostly kind and generous, welcoming and caring, hard-working and disciplined.
I watched a brief piece about Salopek’s journey on the PBS News Hour this week. I have included a link below.
What is extraordinary about his adventure is his realization that in spite of all the wars and turmoil across the globe, he has learned that “The world is an incredibly hospitable place.” In following the ancient trade route called “The Silk Road,” Salopek has gotten to know a variety of people young and old. And though he has so far encountered a few dangerous situations where he had his water supply stolen, was once ambushed by raiders, and was sho…

Our National Lack of Self-esteem

There is a brokenness in our society, a pervasive moral collapse, a reckless disregard for community, neighborliness, courtesy, and compassion.
Our government leads by this example. Both parties are incompetent to guide us into a more responsible living, into a serviceable structure of humanity. Our leaders are dominated by greedy oligarchs who don’t just want more, they want everything, even if it costs our society its dignity, its soul, even its future.
What is on display here daily is a wretched lack of self-esteem. The loss now influences all of us. We’re all affected in ways that keep us shamed by our actions.
When we feel powerless, aimless, without any higher goals than the accumulation of things and the momentary thrill, we then mute our intelligence. We live by raw emotions—anger, appetite, urges. We don’t think, we don’t consider, we merely react. We push. We disregard. We threaten. We act out. And we fail.
Self-esteem is a learned process. It builds on genuine successes that ar…

Is the Soul Solid, like Iron?

Mary Oliver has a beautiful little poem in which she asks:

“Is the soul solid, like iron?
or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?”

It is both.

The soul, we are told by philosophers, theologians, and mystics, is our essence, the permanence of our true self. It is that part of us that lives beyond death. Or so we are taught by religion. Where exactly the soul exists beyond that, has of course, been long debated.

There are times in life when something deep within us is, as Mary Oliver says, solid as iron and we operate out of some sense of aliveness, confidence, and inner strength. It may be fleeting, but there when needed; or it may carry us through long periods of endurance when we build a sturdy self, confident and capable of our abilities and talents.

This is the work of the soul. This is a part of our spiritual development. This is what enables us to believe there are forces in life, loving and generous and mystical, that nurture and compel us tow…