Thoughtful Thursday: A New Mother, Fighting for Her Life

A few weeks ago, Heather contacted me about possibly doing a guest post on my blog or writing something to get the word out about Mesothelioma. It probably could not have come at a better time. I was starting to feel like my blog was this narcissitic place that screamed, “ME! ME! ME!” While I have made peace with the importance of documenting our lives and having a creative outlet, I decided I also wanted to devote some time and space to using this place to get the word out about important causes, companies, people making a difference in this world, and the like. I have not completely come up with the whole plan for this, but I have decided to call it “Thoughtful Thursday.” It may not be a weekly happening, but I would like it to happen somewhat often. It may be a guest post from someone like Heather, or I might put my reporter hat back on, conduct an interview and write something up. If you know someone, a company, an event or something like that which will fit in with this idea of mine, please feel free to contact me either by leaving a comment here or e-mailing me at snlwuertz at gmail dot com. For now, meet Heather and hear a little about her journey with Mesothelioma:

One of the most eventful times in a woman’s life is when she’s expecting a baby and that was no exception for me. My pregnancy was normal, feeling each movement and kick of the little one growing inside. My husband, his family, my parents, and many dear friends – whom I lovingly refer to as my “village” – were there for me throughout the pregnancy, as well as my child’s entrance into this world. My daughter, Lily, was born on August 4, 2005. It all seemed so perfect.

Much earlier than I wanted to, I returned to work when Lily was around a month old. Although I did not feel well, I thought it was just a case of
the “baby blues”. I did not have any energy and experienced difficulty catching my breath. After undergoing various tests, on November 21, 2005, I was diagnosed as having malignant pleural mesothelioma. I was devastated. There I stood with a three-and-a-half month old baby girl – one of the most joyous times in my life – and was slapped with the news that I had cancer. Having been exposed to asbestos as a child, 30 years ago, the lining in one of my lungs had been disturbed, and thus here I was.

To make matters worse, unless starting immediate treatment, my doctor gave me a life expectancy of 15 months. I could not imagine my husband and baby girl having to live without me. I knew I had to do whatever it took to beat this “monster” that had stormed into our lives. I began my quest for the best possible treatment, while my parents cared for Lily in my home of South Dakota. After much research, my husband and I were off to Boston to seek the help of one of the best mesothelioma specialists in the country.

On February 2, 2006, I underwent a surgery called an extrapleural pneumonectomy, where the affected lung was removed, along with the surrounding tissue. My hospital recovery time was 18 days, followed by an additional two months of healing, after which I moved on to radiation and chemotherapy.

While in Boston, my village grew. We met families going through the same traumatic experience. They leaned on us and we leaned back for some extremely beneficial support. While building our circle of support in Boston, my parents were doing the same in South Dakota. Girls whom I had babysat were now babysitting my Lily. Their support means more to me than words could ever express.

When I first welcomed Lily into this world, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would have to battle mesothelioma in the first chapter of her life. I had to experience many of her “firsts” through photos. It was my love for her and my village, and their support, that gave me the strength to battle this disease and reach for the stars. I eventually recovered and am now cancer-free. Never take anything in life for granted, for nothing is guaranteed.

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.


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