Back in December I got an email from the lovely Heather Von St. James (check out her blog HERE) asking if she could write a guest post for me. I was all for it, but we had just moved, the computer was broken and I was gearing up for Elliott's party. It just wasn't a good time. So here we are in almost February and Heather is finally sharing her amazing story.
Heather is a surviver of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer with a notably poor prognosis. The one year survival rate is about 40% and the five year survival rate is about 10%. Similar to when Elliott survived sepsis (50% fatality rate for premature newborns), when you beat mesothelioma you have beaten the odds.
Heather and I do not know each other, but I do have a somewhat personal connection to her story. My cousin Zach is married to Stacey. They met in high school and got married about 7 months after me and Michael, so Stacey has been part of my family for a long time. Stacey's father died of mesothelioma in the fall of 2011. It was less than 2 years after his diagnosis.
There is a certain time in your life when everything changes. Life as you know it becomes different. This happened to me when I was 36 years old. I experienced the best and worst events of my life. My beautiful daughter Lily was born on August 4, 2005. It seemed like my husband and I's entire group of family and friends came to see her. Neither I nor my loved ones were prepared for what came next.
When I went back to work full time, I knew something was wrong. I was losing nearly 7 pounds a week. I had no energy whatsoever, and I was tired all of the time. All of these issues can be explained by being a new mother.. and that is what I chalked it up to in the beginning. Eventually, things kept getting worse I knew it was something more than just symptoms of being a new mother.
I went to the doctor to find out what was wrong with me. After multiple tests, it was determined that I had malignant pleural mesothelioma. It's a type of cancer in the lining of the lung, brought on by asbestos; which I was unknowingly exposed to as a kid-from my father’s work clothes. I was told that without treatment, I would only live for about 15 more months. Obviously that was not enough for me. I needed to be there to watch my sweet Lily grow up.
All I could think of was Lily and my husband. I couldn't imagine them without me. As any mother would be, I was determined to do whatever it took to get healthy. I flew to Boston with my husband and underwent extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery on February 2nd, 2006. During the treatment, my entire left lung was removed along with all of the surrounding tissue. I then underwent just about 3 months of recovery until it was time to begin the chemotherapy and radiation treatments. I was still trying to be the best mother I could be during this period of time.
Lily flew back to South Dakota with my mother when I went to Boston for my treatment. She was being raised by her grandparents while I dealt with the illness. They had a whole group of family members and friends to help them take care of her. I can never thank those who were there for my parents and Lily during those times. There were so many selfless people who stepped up to help out, and none of us could have gotten through the whole ordeal without them. Being away from Lily was incredibly hard, but I knew that the reason I was away from her was so that I could still be with her today. I did however, miss many important moments in her childhood. Thankfully, she was in great hands while I was away.
Cancer is somewhat of a funny thing. It brings many horrible things with it, however, there's good to be found as well. She gave me a reason to press on and continue fighting for my life. My family and I try to embrace life now. We understand how fragile it can be. My advice to you, is to make the best of the tough stuff that life throws at you. There is always some good to be found.
Thanks for sharing your story Heather!
(P.S. How awesome is her hair? I wish I could rock that look!)