Guest Post Today! My Fight with Mesothelioma

Today's society is so busy and our life's are so filled to the brim with work, family and daily activities that we don't always stop and think what would happen if it all came to a sudden stop. What if our life was completely turned upside down? This is when our courage and faith is tested and when we need to stop and take a look around us.
 I hope you enjoy reading Heather's thought provoking article on Mesothelioma and if you have this disease or know someone who does I hope this story makes you realize that some do have hope and healing.
Please be sure to check out her story at the  Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.

It Really Does "Take a Village:" My Fight with Mesothelioma

If there’s one phrase which tends to get thrown around a lot, it’s “it takes a village.” Yet while it may be common, my recent experiences have made me truly believe in it. On August 5, 2005, my daughter, Lily, was born after a relatively uneventful and normal pregnancy. During the entire process, however, my “village” surrounded me. This included my husband and his family, my parents, and many of our friends, all of whom had come to help us welcome Lily into the world. With everything going so wonderfully, nobody would’ve ever expected the storm that was soon to come.

About a month after I returned to work, I began to feel tired, breathless, and completely devoid of energy. Although I could have dismissed these as typical symptoms of being a new mother, I still felt like something wasn’t quite right. As a result, I decided to schedule an appointment with my doctor to see what was wrong. After undergoing numerous tests, we found that the culprit wasn’t just stress, it was something much worse.

Just over three-and-a-half short months after Lily was born, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma on November 21, 2005. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer, which affects the lining of the lung and is usually brought upon by exposure to asbestos. It turns out that I had unknowingly come in contact with it as a child and it was now coming back to haunt me 30 years later.

According to my doctor, I would have only 15 months to live if I didn’t seek treatment. My first thoughts, however, weren’t about me; they were about my three-month-old daughter and my husband. The thought of them being alone in the world without me made me realize that I needed to do whatever was possible to rid myself of this cancer. Since mesothelioma is very deadly, we decided to seek the most drastic treatment offered. My parents agreed to watch Lily in my childhood home in South Dakota while I underwent treatment.  My husband and I departed for Boston to seek treatment for mesothelioma. Under the care of one of the best mesothelioma doctors in the nation, I underwent an extrapleural pneumenectomy on February 2. The procedure required the removal of my left lung and all of its surrounding tissue followed by an additional 18 days of recovery in the hospital. Of course, this was only the first part in a long series of procedures. I would then need to recover for an additional two months before having to undergo chemotherapy and radiation.

Being a new mother is difficult, but it’s even more difficult when you have mesothelioma staring you in the face on a daily basis. Although I eventually made a full recovery and am now free of cancer, I can honestly say that there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here today had it not been for my village. Family and friends from all parts of our lives came out of the woodwork to not only help me, but also help my parents raise my daughter. Although I had no choice but to experience some of Lily’s first milestones through grainy black and white photographs printed from a community hospital printer, those were enough to help me keep fighting.

If my battle with mesothelioma has taught us anything, it’s that life is fragile and must be embraced. While cancer is very bad, a lot of good can still come from it in ways you would never expect.

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.

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