I've often heard the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child". After having my daughter, Lily, on August 4, 2005, it has become a saying that I believe in. I had an emergency C-section and I quickly understood what it meant to “take a village” when my entire village showed up. My parents, in-laws, and friends all came to wish us well. We were more excited than ever, which didn't foreshadow the coming months.
Within a month of going back to work, I started feeling a lack of energy. I assumed this was a new mom side effect, but checked in with my doctor anyway. On November 21, 2005 I found out the real reason. This was the day I was diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer. I learned that exposure to asbestos as a child probably caused this cancer to develop in my lungs.
My biggest worry after diagnosis was my daughter. I couldn’t imagine my family having to live without me. When the doctor told me I’d only live 15 months without treatment, I knew I had to do whatever was necessary in order to survive. I thought my best course of action was to travel to Boston to one of the best mesothelioma doctors in the country. On February 2, 2006, I underwent a surgery that removed my left lung. I recovered for nearly three months before starting chemotherapy and radiation, all within my first year of motherhood.
At this time we figured out that our village was different than we had thought. People we thought we could count on disappeared, while others stepped to the forefront. Cancer has the unexpected side effect of letting you know who your real friends are. My parents raised Lily while I was in Boston. They both had jobs, but people I knew from my youth came forward and babysat Lily when my parents couldn’t.
Meanwhile, my husband and I were meeting new friends who were basically in the same boat. My village is what helped me manage to get through this difficult time. I wouldn’t have been able to do all of this without their love and support.
My parents ended up teaching Lily the things that babies have to learn. They kept me updated with pictures of Lily's progression, which my husband showed off to everyone. They knew she was the reason I was fighting for my life. My parents were so great during that time, and the bonds they made with her run deep to this day, even with the distance between us.
No one said life was going to be easy, but we embrace it as a family. My favorite quote says, “life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” Embrace every part of life. Cancer was terrible, but with all the bad came some good. My diagnosis wasn’t ideal, but we learned from it, and for that I am grateful.
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.