JULY Mom of the Month: Heather Von St. James – one tough mother fighting cancer

Meet our JULY Mom of the Month: Heather Von St James.

Mesothelioma Didn’t Break Me

It is one of the most eventful times in a woman’s life when expecting a child. The pregnancy was very normal with each movement and kick of my little bundle of joy.  Lily, my little daughter was born on August 4, 2005 and I was so excited as I counted her ten tiny fingers and toes.  Throughout everything in my life, I was surrounded by those who meant the world to me – “my village” as I refer to them. My husband, his family, my parents and many dear friends were there through the pregnancy and Lily’s entrance into our world.  There was so much to look forward to as we all witness each new chapter in this life – it all seemed perfect.

Although I would have loved to spend more time home with Lily, I returned to work when she was about a month old. I was not feeling physically up to par as yet and just blew it off as a case of the “baby blues” from just giving birth. I had not an ounce of energy, felt totally fatigued and breathless. No doubt, something was wrong and I needed to contact my doctor for a physical.  After the visit and various testing, diagnosis revealed much worse than stress and the blues of a new birth.

The news was devastating. Here I am with a three-and-a-half month old baby girl, a joyous time in my life and I was slapped with the reality on November 21, 2005 that I indeed had malignant pleural mesothelioma.  Cancer. A word no one wants to hear. As it turns out, I came into contact with asbestos when I was just a child 30 years ago. This cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos and it disturbed the lining of one of my lungs.

If bad can go to worse, my doctor gave me a total of 15 months to live with this disease unless I began immediate treatment. What was I to do – I had a new baby and loving husband to think about. This was supposed to be a new and happy chapter in our lives. I can’t imagine them going on without me and knew I had to do whatever I needed to and beat this monster that is disrupting my happy family and “my village.” With the severity of mesothelioma, we knew we had to get the best treatment possible.

My folks stepped up and offered to care for Lily in South Dakota where I grew up so that I could seek the help I needed. I was informed that one of the best mesothelioma doctors was in the Boston area so my husband and I were off to seek his help. I underwent a procedure known as an extrapleural pneumonectomy on February 2nd, 2006 which is a removal of the affected lung and all its surrounding tissues. Recovery in the hospital was 18 days followed by an additional two months before moving on to the next steps involving radiation and chemotherapy.

Motherhood is a 24-hour joyous but stressful task which I welcomed with open arms. I never dreamed I would also be battling to save my life from the curse of mesothelioma cancer. My fight paid off as I did eventually fully recover – I am now cancer-free.  It was a tough battle as my parents had to raise Lily through some of the best moments every mom cherishes – and it was these moments, that I experienced in the hospital through photos that made me determined to win this battle.

Along with the visions of that beautiful baby girl, it was my “village” of family and friends that gave me the strength to reach for the stars. I knew I needed to fight this cancer out of my body and be here for those I loved – those who loved and supported me through it all. Never take life or anything in your life for granted. Despite the curse of cancer, giving into it is surrendering to it. Life is precious and your “village” is worth the efforts in the love and support they offer.

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

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