posted by Laurie Ryan
Hi, everyone. We’re priviledged to have with us today a guest blogger I met through an email conversation. Heather Von St. James is a cancer survivor (mesothelioma) and I found her story to be inspirational. It also hit very close to home, as we lost a close friend just 3 years ago to this asbestos-related lung cancer. This is a story of hope, since it’s now 7 years since she was diagnosed and she is cancer-free.
So without further ado, here’s Heather:
Battling Cancer As a New Mother
If you were to ask my daughter about cancer, she would tell you that she saved her mommy’s life. This response has become as natural for her as if you were to ask her about what she ate for lunch. In her seven short years of life, this fact has become such an essential part of her existence that there’s simply no doubt in her mind about it. Although some people might not understand why she says this or even take her seriously, it is very true, and I can explain exactly why this is.
I married my husband, Cameron, seven years before we ever considered having kids. At the time, I was 35 years old, and I was a bit worried about the prospect of having kids at that age. I wondered how long it might take for me to get pregnant, but it actually only took three months before we confirmed my pregnancy. I was both nervous and excited, as any mother might imagine. When I look back to that time, it’s amusing to think how quickly I grew into the role of a mother. I rubbed my tummy and felt so much excitement thinking about how our wonderful little baby was in there. I constantly had a million questions in my mind involving what kind of mom I would be. However, I knew that I would be a good one above all.
My pregnancy went by without any hitch at all, although the delivery was a bit more stressful. Since Lily was positioned feet first in the womb, doctors decided to perform an emergency C-section. At the time, I joked that at least we knew Lily’s head would be round. It’s just my nature to look at the positive in any situation. When I look back, I’m amazed by how emotional I got when the doctors handed Lily to me. I knew right away that in the future, I would devote my life to loving and protecting my baby to keep her happy and healthy. I felt such a mission to shape her into the amazing human being I knew she would be and give her all the love that was flowing out of me then and there. Once I had held Lily for just a little while, she was the only thing that mattered to me. My future would be about her. Forever more, I wanted to just hold my daughter, enjoy her aroma, look at her face and keep her safe from harm. In that moment, the whole world was so incredibly perfect that I could never have expected what happened soon after.
Only three-and-a-half months after Lily was born, doctors diagnosed me with malignant pleural mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer. My doctor also said that if I didn’t begin treatment right away, I wouldn’t live more than 15 months. Thankfully, my husband was by my side the whole time. Meanwhile, I was so extremely shocked, wondering how Lily and Cameron could live without me there. As I was consumed with thoughts and worries about the future, the doctor told Cam about my treatment options. My husband told the doctor that we would take the best treatment available, which turned out to be the care of a world-renowned, Boston-based doctor specializing in mesothelioma treatment. The procedure I received involved the total removal of my left lung along with the lining of my diaphragm and heart. Afterwards, I spent 18 days in the hospital for recovery, then two more weeks at a Boston outpatient facility. Then, I went to recover for two more months at my parents’ house in South Dakota, which is where my daughter had been while I received treatment in Boston. Finally, I went back home to Minnesota for my chemotherapy and radiation.
Just like any other mother, I sacrificed what I needed to in order to be there for my daughter in the future. During my treatment, I missed her sixth month of life. Although being separated from my baby daughter was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever had to handle, I knew that Lily needed me in the future, and this meant that I had to be brave for the treatments I needed, including drastic surgery, chemotherapy and finally radiation.
Now, I look back on the time I spent suffering from mesothelioma, a form of cancer that results in death 95 percent of the time, and I can see that my daughter was the reason I stayed strong enough to battle the disease. Realizing that my daughter had to have me there in the future was what got me through the day during my treatment. In conclusion, my daughter Lily is absolutely right when she says that she saved my life.
Hi, everyone. It’s me, Laurie, again. If you would like to read more about Heather or this debilitating disease, here’s a couple links for you:
If anyone you know has had exposure to asbestos, exhibits shortness of breath, fatigue, and/or pain under the rib cage, urge them to seek medical attention. The sooner, the better with this disease.