Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How A New Mother Battled Cancer and Won: Guest Post

A guest post from Heather Von St James: a mesothelioma survivor and a guest blogger for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Her story is one of hope and inspiration and she hopes to spread her message to anyone who may be going through similar situations to her own. Check out Heather’s story on the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog

People are surprised to hear my daughter state that she saved my life. She doesn’t try to make herself a hero when she says it. She’s just sharing a piece of information in the same way she would tell you that her favorite sandwich is peanut butter with strawberry jelly. This can seem odd to people who don’t know the entire story, but it’s just part of our family life. She knows about cancer because she saved me from the deadly disease.

While my friends were having babies in their twenties, I was content to wait. My husband Cameron and I were happy with things the way they were, and we were not in a rush to add a child to the mix. We were in our thirties before the urge to have a child really hit us, and I was 35 when we finally made the decision to take the leap and complete our family with a baby. We were very fortunate in our efforts. While other women struggle to conceive at that age, we were thrilled to see a positive pregnancy test after only three months. Two more pregnancy tests confirmed the news that we would be parents. Soon, my thoughts were occupied with questions about what kind of mother I would be. I didn’t know if I would be just like my own mother or more like the hip mothers some of my friends had, but I know that I wanted to be a good mom who loved my child and did the best I could.

Our lives continued to be blessed during the pregnancy. I had no problems with morning sickness, diabetes or any of the other potential difficulties. Our child grew and was healthy. When it was time for me to deliver, the little bundle of joy was breech. While I had looked forward to a natural delivery, I was not upset by the news that I would have an emergency C-section. Cameron was there with me, and I just wanted the baby to arrive safe and healthy. The type of person to always see the cup half-full, I even joked that our baby would have a perfectly shaped head since she wouldn’t have to go through the birth canal. When Lily was born, I stared at her in awe of how incredibly perfect she was. Amazing and beautiful, she had ten perfect fingers and ten little toes. Alert and magnificent, she was everything Cameron and I had dreamed of. My life was all about her at that moment, and I never dreamed that it would change so drastically in just a few months.

Lily was just over three months when I went to the doctor and heard the news that would change my life. The diagnosis was malignant pleural mesothelioma, and my prognosis was poor. Without treatment, I only had 15 months to live. Thank God that my husband was with me at that moment. While I was lost in shock and wondering if my daughter would even remember me, my husband was getting important information from the doctor. While I was focusing on the fact that I could die, my husband was gathering the information needed to save my life. Mesothelioma is fatal for 95 percent of the people who have it, but I didn’t have to be part of that statistic. There was hope, but it meant traveling to Boston for surgery. The world’s best mesothelioma doctors are there, and they could save my life. On February 2, 2006 I underwent a surgery to remove my left lung, along with part of my heart and chest lining and diaphragm. I was in the hospital for 18 days and after another 2 months of recovery I began radiation and chemotherapy treatment.

During my time in Boston, Lily stayed with my parents in South Dakota. I spent the sixth month of her life away from her, but it’s a sacrifice I gladly made to be with her for so many more years to come. It hurt me to lose that month, but it meant that I could be there for her other milestones. I wanted to be there for her first crush on a boy, her first date and her first day at college. That desire to watch her grow and be with her is what gave me the strength to fight and survive.

I look back on that time in my life and I know that I was fortunate and incredibly blessed. I might have  surrendered to the disease, but I couldn’t stop fighting knowing that Lily needed me. That’s why I say that my baby girl saved my life, and that’s why my daughter is so matter-of-fact about her role in my battle against cancer.

Thank you Heather, for sharing your inspiring story with us!  I hope I never have to find out if I could be as strong as you were.  Your family is beautiful, and we hope everything continues to go well for you!

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