Friday, September 14, 2012

Guest Post: Facing a Giant Adversity: Mesothelioma and My Village

I’ve not had a guest blogger before but her story really touched me! And just as I like people (who face challenges like we did with Nathan and his sagittal synostosis) to be able to find a place with answers so does she. I hope that someone finds what they’re looking for here.
Red heart – Allison
By Heather of
Facing a Giant Adversary:  Mesothelioma and My Village
Screen Shot 2012-07-26 at 8.00.52 AMOne of the most devastating days of my life was the day that I received my cancer diagnosis.  November 21, 2005, should have been an exciting time, but this was the day that I came face to face with my adversary, malignant pleural mesothelioma.  Exposure to asbestos some 30 years earlier was the explanation.  My childhood exposure had dire implications now.  I only had 15 months to live, according to the doctor, unless I began treatment quickly.  

This would be devastating for anybody, I can imagine, but I was a proud new mother.  Lily, my baby girl, was born August 4, 2005, one of the happiest days ever.  I felt drained and fatigued in the early post-partum months.  Still, I returned to work.  Some women experience the blues after giving birth, but when my symptoms didn’t improve, I decided to make an appointment with my doctor.  Rounds of tests led to the diagnosis, and I was devastated.  I couldn’t imagine leaving my baby girl.  This was going to be the fight of my life, and I was going to give it all I had.

Thankfully, I had a fantastic support system to help me through this time.  My husband’s family and my parents, of course, were there for us.  Together with our network of friends, they composed our village.  After all, so many people say that it takes a village.  We saw this in action.  No matter what life throws at you, a village makes it more bearable.  They gathered to support us as we faced our common adversary, my cancer.  I prepared to go to Boston for treatment by one of the best mesothelioma doctors available, and my parents took Lily into their South Dakota home in the meantime.  Separation from my daughter was heart wrenching, but without treatment, the separation would be forever.

I went through an extrapleural pneumonectomy on February 2, 2006.  This involved the removal of my lung and its surrounding tissue.  Another 18 days were spent in the hospital in order to recover.  I started radiation and chemotherapy two months later.  My village continued to expand as others in Boston going through similar challenges leaned on us for support.  We drew strength from them as well.  
Meanwhile, my parents’ support system expanded in South Dakota.  Some of my former babysitting charges were now parents.  They helped watch Lily when my parents needed to be at work or needed a break.  Their support means the world to me even today.  
My extensive support system gave me strength to defeat my adversary.  While I have fully recovered and am cancer free, I recognized that I couldn’t have managed without these friends and family members.  I am with Lily every day. I cherish being able to experience the little things firsthand rather than through photos and phone calls.  Life can change drastically in a matter of minutes, and one of my greatest lessons has been to appreciate the simple things and to express my gratitude to those I love.

Here is an update and a video from May 2013:

Screen Shot 2012-07-26 at 8.01.02 AMHeather 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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