Sunday, July 8, 2012

Guest Blogger: Heather Von St James - Mesothelioma Survivor

We've all heard the commercials which seem to be getting more frequent lately about class action suits and treatments for mesothelioma.  I knew it was cancer but didn't know much beyond that. 

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.

 A word from Heather

Finding the Silver Lining with Cancer

Through everything that has happened, I have learned the importance of the saying “It takes a village”. One of the first times this idea struck me was when my baby girl, Lily, was born on August 4, 2005. The birth followed an average pregnancy with no surprises, except for an emergency C-section on the day of delivery. After the birth, all of these family and friends came to surround me with their love. However, this wonderful time in my life was soon to be followed by something quite terrible.

Shortly after returning to work, I began noticing some strange symptoms. I was easily fatigued and found myself becoming short of breath. I suppose these could have been normal results of being a new mother, but I was not so sure. I decided to visit my doctor to see if any of these symptoms should be worrying me. He ran a number of tests on me and to my shock discovered something that I would never have imagined.

On November 21, 2005, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. After learning more about this disease, I discovered that mesothelioma was a very deadly type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma ruins the lining of the lungs. Unwittingly as a child, I had been exposed to asbestos and was now paying the awful price.

The doctor gave me only fifteen months to live unless I would agree to treatment. My thoughts during this time were that I could not leave my husband and new baby alone. I had to make this fight for them. Because of this, I chose to find the most aggressive mesothelioma treatment options available. To this end, my husband and I decided Lily would live with my parents in South Dakota while we made the trip to Boston. In Boston was one of the best mesothelioma doctors, doctor David Sugarbaker. First, I went through the entire removal of my left lung as well as the tissue surrounding it. This was an extrapleural pneumonectomy that I underwent at the beginning of February. I then spent over two weeks recovering in the hospital. Of course, there was a great deal more treatments that I had to undergo including chemotherapy and radiation.

I know that any mother has much on her hands. However, I found that I had even more to face with this diagnosis. I have now completely recovered, but I mostly have my close-knit circle of family and friends to thank. Without them, I believe that I never would have made it. Not only that, but this same family helped to raise my daughter at a time that I simply could not be there for her. While it was hard for me to be separated from Lily, I am thankful for all those who helped. Through all of this, I have learned that life should be cherished and that even something negative like cancer can still have a silver lining.


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