You have heard the old adage, “it takes a village to raise a child.” You hear it more when you have a baby and I came to find that there is no truer statement. On August 4th, 2005, after a mainly uneventful pregnancy, except an emergency C-section, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Lily. Our “village”– my parents, my husband’s family, and our friends came to give us their loving wishes and welcome Lily into our lives. We had no idea that a vicious storm was brewing.
I returned to work full time, but within a month things started going downhill. I was always so tired, lacked energy, and unable to catch my breath properly. I attributed this to being a new mom. Even so, in the back of my mind I knew something wasn’t completely right. I went to my doctor and, after a myriad of tests, I had an answer.
Three and a half short months after Lily was born, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. It seems that I had been unknowingly exposed to asbestos thirty years ago. The devastating part of this, I was told I only had 15 months to live if I did not do anything about my disease. Because the prognosis for mesothelioma is grim, we decided to proceed with the most radical treatment that was available.
On February 2nd, 2006, in Boston, I underwent a surgical procedure called extrapleural pneumenectomy. It was the removal of my left lung and all the tissue surrounding it. I was in recovery at the hospital for 18 days and needed two months additional recovery before chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Lily lived with my parents in South Dakota, while my husband and I were in Boston. My witness to her growing and development came through grainy black and white photocopies of pictures my mom emailed and my husband printed off a community printer for me. She was the reason I was there, away from her, fighting for my life. I was so thankful; she was in the best hands while I was going through this.
My parents still worked full-time had their “village” to lend a hand, give support, and surround them and our baby with love in South Dakota. My husband and I also had amazing people surround us in Boston.
My prognosis, dire as it was, has shown us what a “village” can do. Never will these people know how grateful I am for the support they gave me and my family. No one said life was easy, it can be very fragile. Learn to embrace all that life throws at you.
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.