The Power of Love and Support - By Guest Blogger Heather Von St James

Meet Heather, a lovely lady from Dakota who got in touch with me recently. Today she is sharing her inspiring story about her defeat of mesothelioma with us. Heather is a 43 year old wife and mother who was diagnosed with this type of cancer just a few months after the birth of her daughter. 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. Here is what she has to say...

If there’s one phrase that tends to be mentioned quite frequently, it’s “it takes a village.” It means is that in order to get through times of hardship, support from your loved ones – your village– is needed. I developed a personal connection with this phrase was when I gave birth to my daughter, Lily, on August 4, 2005. With the exception of a C-section during delivery, the pregnancy was relatively normal. Thankfully, my husband and I had a “village” consisting of our parents, families, and many friends. They not only helped us during the entire process, but also were waiting to welcome Lily into the world on the day of delivery. With so much joy in the room that day, none of us would’ve ever imagined the tragic events that were to follow.

About a month after returning to work, I began to feel tired, devoid of energy, and breathless. Although these feelings are typical to new mothers, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that something was actually wrong with me. Fearing for my health, I decided to go see a doctor to check if my symptoms were more than those of motherhood. Looking back, I’m glad I did.

On November 21, 2005, my doctor diagnosed me with malignant pleural mesothelioma, giving me only 15 months to live if I didn’t seek treatment. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that gradually deteriorates lung tissue and is caused by exposure to asbestos. Apparently, I had been exposed 30 years ago as a child and it had remained dormant until now.

Although I feared for my life, my first thoughts weren’t of me. Instead, they were of my husband and daughter, who would be all alone in the world if I didn’t recover. Not wanting to put that burden on them, my husband and I decided to seek the most drastic treatment for mesothelioma available. Leaving Lily behind in South Dakota with my parents, we flew to Boston so that I could undergo an extrapleural pneumenectomy. This surgery not only required the removal of my left lung, but also an 18-day period of recovery in the hospital. From there, I would also have to recover for an additional two months before I could have chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

My battle was long and hard, but I survived. If it wasn’t for my “village,” I can safely say that I probably wouldn’t be here today. Modern science and the treatments I underwent were very helpful, but in the grand scheme of things, half the battle is finding the will to live. The friends and family who made up our village not only helped me in this sense, but the thought of my daughter that kept me fighting as well. Although I could only see her through grainy black-and-white photographs printed in the hospital, they were enough to convince me to stay alive.

Cancer is a funny thing: Although it’s a truly horrible experience, I’ve found that plenty of good can come from it. We’re now closer to our friends and family than ever before and we have also learned to embrace whatever life decides to throw at us.

You can read her story here on the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.