Monday, 9 July 2012

Guest Post: A Village of Support


Last week I was approached by Heather, who asked if she could share her story on my blog. While my blog is mostly about narrowboating, it is also about parenting. Heather’s story struck a chord with me because I wrote about cancer last year when my friend died suddenly; leaving two young daughters behind.


My Mesothelioma Journey – A Village of Support

“It takes a village” is a recurring phrase that describes the responsibility and communal commitment to raising a child. I had a chance to experience a “village” with the birth of my daughter, Lily, on August 4, 2005.

My pregnancy was relatively uneventful with no complications, until my unexpected emergency C-section during delivery. Many family and friends surrounded me, including my parents and my husband’s family, to welcome our new baby and to wish us well. Everything seemed fine, but nothing could prepare us for the storm that was about to come.

Within a month of returning to work full-time, my health went downhill. I felt tired, breathless, and had no energy. I thought this was from being a new mom, but I knew something was wrong. I scheduled a doctor’s visit and, after a myriad of tests, we found the culprit.

On November 21, 2005, just 3-1/2 months after Lily came into our lives. I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma – a cancer caused by asbestos that attacks the lungs’ linings. I was unknowingly exposed to asbestos when I was a child and 30 years later that exposure became mesothelioma.

My first thoughts were about my baby, not me. The news was hard to bear at the doctor’s appointment – I was told I had 15 months to live if I did nothing. I thought of Lily; I looked at my husband; I thought of the two of them living a life without me. I knew I had to do whatever it took to save my life, for myself and for them.

Mesothelioma has a grim prognosis, so we chose the most intense form of treatment we could. My husband and I flew to Boston to seek treatment with one of the best mesothelioma doctors. On February 2, I had surgery to remove my left lung and all of the surrounding tsissue, an extrapleural pneumenectomy.

I spent the next 18 days recovering from the surgery in the hospital, followed by two additional months of further recovery. I then started chemotherapy, and then radiation-- all of this as a new mom.

We could not have done all of this if we didn’t have the support of our village– the family and friends who surrounded us with love, support, and prayers. People, who we would not have expected, came to support us, while some we did expect support from, fled. The funny thing about this cancer is it really helps to weed out those who will be there from those who will not.

Lily stayed with my parents while we were in Boston. My parents, in this short amount of time, went from being new grandparents to becoming full-time parents to Lily.

It was amazing to see a village of support come together to help them care for Lily. The girls is used to babysit when I was a teenager – now married with their own children – volunteered to babysit Lily while both my mom and dad worked their full-time jobs. People I grew up with in church surrounded my parents with support and love.

While in Boston, we made new friends who shared the same cancer experience with us. This is how we managed to get through each day, with the support and love of the people around us.

Back home in my native South Dakota, my baby girl graduated to eating food and learning how to scoot and roll around. I had to witness her growth and development, though, through sketchy black and white copies of the pictures my mom emailed to me and my husband managed to print at a community printer. The nurses looked forward to seeing the new pictures, as I did, and we all tried to not cry. Lily was the reason for my treatment– she was the reason I decided to fight for my life.

As a family now, we try to embrace all that life gives us, because we know how fragile it is. My favorite quote is, “life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” Cancer is a funny thing– with the bad comes a lot of good. With my dire diagnosis, a whole lot of good came from it, and for that, I am thankful.



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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