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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.

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