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Hope Built on Love

Heather Von St James is a mom and a mesothelioma survivor. She has offered to share her story of hope and courage as she battled cancer.


Life can often present tough time and change really quickly.  At age 36, the largest change I would ever experience came my way.  It was one that took me through the complete range of human emotions.  My daughter Lily was born on August 4, 2005. This moment was the happiest one that myself and my husband would ever experience.  Unfortunately, this great amount of joy came on the heels of the most difficult time we would ever face.

The changes in my body were apparent soon after I returned to work.  My energy levels plummeted and, I began losing at least 5 to 7 pounds a week.  Though this change could be attributed to the recent birth, my instincts told me there was something wrong.

Tests performed by my doctor resulted in a diagnosis of a rare form of cancer called malignant pleural mesothelioma.  This type of cancer affects the lining of the lungs and is the result of asbestos exposure. Without my knowledge, I was exposed as a small child.  I was devastated when the doctor informed me that I would only survive another 15 months without treatment.  I could not stop thinking of the future of my family.

After many discussions with my husband, we decided that fighting the disease was the most important action to take. Although we lived in Minnesota, the most serious form of treatment was only available in Boston.  The procedure involved removing the cancerous lung in addition to parts of my chest and heart lining.  My diaphragm had to be removed as well.  On February 2,2006, the best mesothelioma doctor available performed this extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery.  After the surgery I spent 18 days in the hospital and after another 2 months of recovering, I began radiation and chemotherapy.

During the procedures, I was doing my best to be the mother Lily had known.  She came to my parent’s house in South Dakota where she could be cared for by family.  My gratitude for the assistance during this vulnerable time can never truly be expressed.  Regrettably, I missed many milestones in my daughter’s life.  She made the transition to solid food and began to experiment with crawling.  As hard as it was to be absent for these moments, I knew I was making a decision that would allow me to be there for her during the rest of her life. It was an instinct that any mother would follow.

Cancer is a disease that can deeply scar a person both physically and mentally.  However, my family gave me the strength to fight and recover quickly.  They were my saving grace in the same way that I will be present to support them in the future.  No amount of adversity can destroy the appreciation for life, which this experience brought to our family.  Anyone who must face this kind of challenge can find additional hope by recognizing that in every situation lies a greater reserve of strength to be found and a deeper level of love to be achieved.

Heather Von St James is a mesothelioma survivor and a guest blogger for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Her story is one of hope and inspiration and she hopes to spread her message to anyone who may be going through similar situations to her own.

Photo cannot be used without permission © Maridav – Fotolia

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