|Heather with her husband Cameron and daughter Lily. Photo courtesy of Heather Von St. James
About the author: Heather Von St. James is a 7-year survivor of mesothelioma cancer, mother, wife, and an amazing woman. Learn more about Heather at http://www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/heather/
“I saved my mommy’s life”. Most 7-year-olds don’t get to make such a statement, but anytime she’s asked about my cancer, the response is as natural as any other, immediate and confident. Most people don’t understand the gravity of my daughter’s statement. Whether or not anyone else can grasp the truth behind these five words, I will be the first to tell you that they are absolutely right.
I was 35 when I made the decision with my husband, Cameron, to have kids. We waited 7 years into our marriage to move forward with this choice, and nervous was a complete understatement. I was worried about complications due to my age, and I had no idea how long it would take to get pregnant. Thankfully, only 3 short months and 3 tests later we confirmed that we had a baby on the way! A cocktail of emotions hit you all at once when you get the news for the first time. I was shocked, anxious, and nervous all at once, and knowing I was finally going to be a mother was beyond exciting. I started acting the part immediately, always rubbing my belly, almost zealous knowing that our sweet little baby was growing inside. I started analyzing everything, a hundred and one questions racing through my mind all at once about what kind of mom I would be. Would I be strict? Would I be the fun mom, the cool mom? Amidst all the confusion and emotional chaos, I knew one thing – above all I wanted to be a good mom.
|Photo courtesy of Heather Von St. James
The pregnancy was incredibly smooth. It went so well that I felt I could have done it 10 times over, but nothing is ever perfect. Our “bump in the road” came in the form of an emergency C-section because Lily was a breech baby. In the spirit of positivity, I remember saying, “At least she will have a round head!” We always hear about those moments that seem to be suspended in time, but the first time I held Lily in my arms, literally nothing else mattered. I was overcome with emotion unlike any other I’d experienced in my 35 years. I knew that I would do whatever it took to give that little girl the world, to give her all the love, protection, and happiness that I could. I wanted to help her be the best she could be. I wanted to teach her, nurture her, and share with her the kind of love that I was just now experiencing for the first time. I wanted to hold her forever, study her face, take in her scent, and protect her from everything in this world that could hope to harm her. Fixed inside this perfect moment, I could have never imagined the storm that was soon to follow.
A mere 3 ½ months after Lily’s birth, I received an earth shattering diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma. To top it all off, I was told that without immediate treatment, I might only have 15 months to live. I thank God that my husband was with me in those moments after the diagnosis because I was in utter shock. It was another one of those moments that seemed to stay suspended in time. I sat there thinking about Cameron and Lily, and how I couldn’t fathom leaving them alone in this world without me. While I pondered and hashed out every possibility in my head, Cams listened to the doctor’s options for treatment, and immediately made the decision to go wherever the most drastic form of treatment would take us. As it turned out, this decision took us to Boston, where we met with one of the world’s best mesothelioma doctors, so that I could undergo an extreme procedure that resulted in the removal of my entire left lung, and the linings of my heart and diaphragm.
I was in the hospital recovering for 18 days, and then spent 2 weeks thereafter in a wonderful outpatient facility in Boston. I was rejoined with Lily at my parents’ house in South Dakota to continue my recovery for the next 2 months, before returning home to Minnesota, where I was due to begin chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Fighting for my life and missing Lily’s 6th month of life at the same time, was one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever been through. Being away from my new baby for an entire month of her new life was a sacrifice I had to make. But the sacrifice was necessary, and as any mother would in my position, I had to do it. Lily, this adorable little newborn girl, needed her mommy to live and be there for many more years. She was my drive, and she gave me the courage to embrace the unknown, despite how frightening it was. She helped me face the life threatening surgery, the chemo, and the radiation.
Mesothelioma kills about 95% percent of diagnosed patients. Looking back on my journey with the disease, I started to realize very quickly that being a mother is what gave me the strength to keep fighting. Knowing that my baby girl needed her mother to be there for her, kept me fighting each and every day. That’s why I know her words are nothing but truthful when she says, “I saved my mommy’s life”.
Note from Kristen and Dave:
When Heather contacted us about doing a guest post on our blog, we jumped at the opportunity to share her story. She is an amazing example of hope, being an advocate for your own health, and not letting a disease dictate your life. Please visit her website and watch/share her video below to learn more about her journey.