I'd been back to work for only a few weeks when I started to feel terribly worn-out. It didn't seem unreasonable to feel this way so soon after pregnancy, and I could have dismissed it, but somehow I felt like there was more to it than that. I followed my instincts and made a doctor's appointment. Unfortunately, my instincts proved correct. On November 21st I was diagnosed with a cancer called malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Pleural Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that attacks the protective membrane lining the lungs. Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. Apparently I was now being haunted by unwitting exposure to asbestos as a child. Without treatment, I only had a little more than one year left to live.
Naturally, my thoughts turned to my family. The thoughts of my husband having to raise Lily without me and of Lily growing up without her mother, steeled me to do anything and everything I could to get better. I decided an extreme response to such an extremely dangerous condition was called for. My husband and I left Lily in the loving care of my parents in South Dakota, and headed to Boston to fight for my future. There, on February 2nd, one of the most skilled mesothelioma doctors in the country performed an extrapleural pneumonectomy, removing my left lung and it's surrounding tissue. I spent 18 days in the hospital recovering, and that was only the beginning of a long string of treatments and recoveries leading up to chemo and radiation therapy.
Motherhood is hard enough as it is. Facing the possibility of death, and fighting against it with all I had while still raising my daughter was a challenge like nothing else. But I prevailed, I am cancer-free, and I attribute a large part of my recovery to the village of loved ones that gave me support and strength during my illness. While in the hospital, I was forced to miss out on some of Lily's very first experiences. But that only pushed me to fight harder so I would be there for all of her experiences still to come.
Cancer is a trial I would never wish on anyone, but surviving cancer has taught me a wonderful lesson: Life is precious, worth fighting for, and must be lived to be appreciated.
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 more of her story at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.