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The Story That Must Be Told: True Tales of Transformation, Vol. I Writers on the Edge Hungry Girl: Recipes and Survival Strategies for Guilt-Free Eating in the Real World Armageddon: The Cosmic Battle of the Ages The Remnant The Mark

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Guest Post: Heather Von St & Being Diagnosed with Mesothelioma

A baby gives new meaning to the old cliché “it takes a village.” Except for an emergency C-section during delivery, I had an uneventful pregnancy. Little did we know the storm that lay ahead.

Although I returned to my full-time job within four weeks, I was tired and breathless. Being a new mom was hard work, but I knew something was wrong. A battery of medical tests soon led to an answer.

On November 21, 2005, just three and a half months after Lily came into our lives, doctors gave me a diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma, lung cancer caused by asbestos. Thirty years after a previously unknown exposure, I had mesothelioma.

Doctors said I had 15 months to live if I rejected treatment. My mind flashed to my baby, my husband, and my new life. I knew we would do whatever it took to keep our family together. The prognosis was grim, and so we chose the most radical treatment offered.

My husband and I flew to Boston where some of the best mesothelioma doctors and doctors handled my care. On February 2, 2006, I underwent extrapleural pneumenectomy, a surgical treatment that removed my left lung. I spent the next 18 days recovering in the hospital and two months later, I started chemotherapy and radiation, all the while thinking of my new role as mom.

The “village” came to our rescue, surrounding us with love, support, and prayers. Unexpected help came from surprising places; and some of the people we thought we could depend on fled. Cancer has a way of weeding through the people who stick around during rough times and those who disappear.

Lily lived with my parents while we were in Boston and they had their own village as well. Girls I once babysat now had kids of their own who volunteered to watch Lily while my parents went to work each day. Church members I knew as a child encircled my parents with strength and love. Meanwhile, we met new friends in Boston who were going through the same hardships. These connections sustained us from day to day.

In South Dakota where I had grown up, my baby girl was starting to eat solid foods and scoot around the floor. I witnessed these events through grainy back and white photos emailed by my mom and printed on a community printer by my husband. Trying not to cry, nurses joined me to ooh and ah over the pictures that replaced the baby in my arms. I was fighting for Lily, and she was in the best of hands.

Although miles and months now separate our visits, Lily has a strong bond with my parents. Knowing how fragile life can be, we embrace the future as a family. No one promised it would be easy, but we do our best. My favorite quote says it all: “life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

Cancer is a funny thing; a lot of good comes along with the bad. I am grateful for that lesson.

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
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