Enjoying Life No Matter What

Baby Lily with Mom Heather
Photo credit: Heather Von St James

When babies are born, you hear a lot of sayings. Little quotes from well wishers
are part and parcel of having a child. A common one that actually wound up
having great meaning to me was, β€œIt takes a village to raise a child.” I did not
think it would, at first. My daughter was born via C-section on August 4, 2005.
The pregnancy was not particularly tough and the surgery to bring Lily into this
world went great. At that point, my village of friends and family made itself
known, but I did not need them. My husband and I were doing fine and happy to
have our new addition.

After a short time, I went back to my job full time. It was time to get a routine
back, but I was slowed down by exhaustion and respiratory problems. I could
have just figured I was tired from work and parenting, but I knew something was
wrong. I was right. Tests showed that I had malignant pleural mesothelioma. I
had 15 months to live if I did not try treatment. The treatment for mesothelioma
was drastic, but there really was never a choice. I had to live for Lily and my
husband. My daughter was still only 3 1/2 months old.

The plan was to go to Boston for surgery and have my parents take care of Lily
in South Dakota. My husband and I flew to Boston, leaving Lily with her village.
We could not have done it without them. I had my left lung removed in a
procedure known as an extrapleural pneumonectomy. I was in the hospital for
more than two weeks after the surgery, spent the next two months recovering
and then began chemotherapy and radiation. Being a first time mom is tough, but
doing it through all of this is impossible without help.

I was able to keep track of Lily through my mom and the photos she sent to my
husband and myself in Boston. My little village of nurses admired our child with
us as I got better and did not lose my determination to get better and be there for
my daughter. It did help very much to know that she was in a safe place with
wonderful people. I could never thank them enough.

Heather and Lily
Photo credit: Heather Von St James

My struggle, my daughter, my husband and our village showed me that life is not
something one should take for granted. Now, I take every day, every moment,
every gesture and every ounce of love with the greatest gratitude. I choose to eat
at the banquet of life and try to enjoy every second of it.

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 more of her story at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.

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  • Lisa

    Very brave indeed. You are very blessed too to come out of it like you have. It's wonderful that you share your story too so others can learn about it – you may just save someone's else life too.

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