Cancer - Your Story : With Bad Comes A Lot Of Good

cancer, cancer - your story,
Editors Note: It has been a while since we had a Cancer - Your Story post on the blog but the door is always ajar and I am very grateful that people spread the word on my behalf.  

Heather Von St James emailed me after a conversation with Peggy (Narrowboat Wife) and has offered to share her journey with us.  Heather is a 43-year old wife and mother and 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 by blogging, speaking and sharing her message of hope and healing with others.  

You can read more of Heather's story at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog and find her on Twitter as @HeatherVSJ.

Picture Credit | Flickr
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Most have heard the saying, “It takes a village”. I never truly believed in that saying until the birth of my first child and the obstacles that soon followed. August 4th, 2005 was the date of the birth of my daughter, Lily. It was a fairly simple pregnancy besides the fact that I had an emergency C-section. My husband and I were very lucky during the whole pregnancy because we were drenched with the company of everyone we loved, our village. All our closest friends and family wanted to welcome the newest addition to our family into the world and wish us the best of luck.

Within a month of returning to work full time, strange things started to happen to my body. I was constantly tired, could never catch my breath; my batteries were constantly at zero. While these were all things that could be attributed to being a new mom, I still had a really bad feeling in the bottom of my stomach. Something was not right so I went and visited my doctor. After a heap of tests, we found the reason.

cancer, cancer your story, heather von st james
On November 21, 2005 I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs. Only 3 1/2 months after Lily came into our lives I found I had developed this cancer because of exposure to asbestos. As a child asbestos exposure does not even cross your mind and unfortunately it came back to bite me about 30 years later. Symptoms that I just assumed came with any new mother were actually symptoms of mesothelioma.

My first thought was not about me, but of course about my baby. I was given awful news at the appointment; I was told I would have 15 months to live if I didn't start my treatment as soon as possible. There was a long list of thoughts running through my head but I could not get my mind off of Lily and my husband. Leaving them alone was not an option so at that point I knew had to live longer than 15 months; I could not leave my daughter and husband so soon. Because the mesothelioma prognosis is grim we decided to hit this cancer right in the head. We flew to Boston to tackle my cancer with one of the best mesothelioma doctors in the country. I underwent a surgery called extrapleural pneumenectomy on February 2nd. This surgery left me with only one lung. It then was a long haul consisting of 18 days in the hospital regaining strength, 2 months of additional recovery and finally the start of my chemotherapy and radiation. All of this was going on around me, I wanted my normal life back, but I knew I was doing what needed to be done in order to be there throughout Lily’s life.

We never could have survived if our village was not constantly surrounding us with prayers, support, and so much love. Our support system consisted of many different people, from all different parts of our lives. People who we had not expected came out in our support, and those we thought we could depend on to be there and help out, fled. Funny thing about cancer... it really helps you find out who your real friends are.

It was hard being apart from Lily so much and so early. Lily lived with my parents while we were in Boston. It was quite a change for my parents to go from grandparents to fully raising Lily. They also had their own village to help and support them. All kinds of people through out the community gave my parents a hand. Girls I used to babysit when I was a teenager and people from our church surrounded my parents with love and support. My husband and I started to move into a different village while out in Boston. We made new friends and surrounded ourselves with amazing people going through the same thing we were. This love and support of the people surrounding us is the main reason we made it through each day.

Back in my childhood home in South Dakota, my parents were witnessing my baby girl’s firsts. I was lucky enough to receive pictures with emails of my little Lily from my mom, but it was certainly not the same as witnessing her in person. My nurses loved to come and check out the new pictures of Lily. She was the reason I was going through all of this; she was the very reason I was fighting so hard. It made me feel better knowing she was in the best hands possible while I did this. The bond my parents have with her will never go away, even if they do not see her as often anymore.

cancer, cancer your story, heather von st james
Making it through this battle made my family realize how fragile life really is and how we have to make the most out of every day. No one promised us easy... but we have tried so hard to make the best out of the situation. One of my favorite quote says, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death”.
[Editors note: look at the tattoo on Heather's arm - it's this quote!]

So embrace all that life bombards at you. Cancer really is a funny thing and we have learned that with the bad, comes a lot of good. With my diagnosis, dreadful as it was, a whole lot of good has come from it; the closest village I could ever hope for and for that, I am the most thankful.