Juggling all the aspects of my life with some baking, writing and good old fashioned ranting thrown in

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Guest Post: "The Importance of Having a Village When Dealing with Mesothelioma"

I have never hosted a guest post before but when I heard Heather's story of her fight against cancer, I was honoured to have the opportunity to help her share her story and raise awareness of the rare illness she suffered with: Mesothelioma. I found this post deeply inspiring and I hope my readers do too!

The Importance of Having a Village When Dealing with Mesothelioma

A lot of people say “it takes a village to raise a child,” but I have come to find out how true that saying can be recently. I gave birth to my daughter, Lily, on August 4, 2005, through an emergency C-section. As soon as my daughter was born, I first understood the meaning of a “village” when my and my husband’s family and friends came to see Lily and wish us the best. Everything seemed fine at the time, but I would soon come to rely on my “village” after I found out I had cancer.

A month after I returned to work, I started to feel weak and breathless all the time, but I thought it was due to being a new mom. Many moms feel extremely tired after having a baby. However, I had a strong feeling that my tiredness wasn’t due to taking care of my newborn so I went to the doctor to get tested. I was distressed when I found out about my condition.

The doctor gave me diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma on November 21, 2005, only 3 ½ months after I brought Lily into the world. My condition is a type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and can be caused by exposure to asbestos. I came to find out that when I was a child, I had been exposed to asbestos. My symptoms were manifesting 30 years later, when I had just become a mother.

When I was diagnosed, I thought about the effect that my condition would have on my baby and husband. I was told I had fifteen months to live if we did nothing. I decided I would do whatever it took to survive. My husband and I flew to Boston so that on February 2nd 2006, I could undergo an extrapleural pneumenectomy from one of the top mesothelioma doctors in the country. During the procedure, the doctor removed my left lung and all of the surrounding tissue, replacing it with Gore-Tex. I spent another 18  days recovering from the surgery in the hospital, and then another 2 months recovering at home before I underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Having a “village” of different people from different times in our lives to provide love, support, and prayers helped my husband and I tremendously.  It was funny how people that I didn’t think would step up did, and some people who I thought we could depend upon weren’t there for my family. My parents, who both worked full time, raised Lily while I was going through cancer treatment in Boston. A “village” of people, including individuals I babysat when I was younger and people from my family’s church helped them to take care of Lily or offered their support and love. I also found a “village” of supporters, especially people who were dealing with the same thing as my family, while I was in Boston.

My parents emailed me pictures of Lily regularly and my husband printed them out on a community printer. I would show the nurses the grainy black and white photos of Lily, who started to eat solid foods and scoot and roll around when I was in the hospital. It took a great effort on my part not to cry, but I just remembered that I was going through treatment for Lily. I knew she was in great hands with my parents, but being away from her was still tough.

What I went through made me realize the importance of embracing life. Although life is never easy, it is important for us to live it as best as we can and embrace the good that comes along with the bad. Having cancer really made me realize that. As one of my favorite quotes says, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

Pictures of Heather with her daughter, Lily

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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