Guest Post: How mesothelioma changed my perspective on life

I received a comment from a woman by the name of Heather and I was moved by her story of overcoming a terrifying cancer diagnosis while raising her young daughter. As a mother myself, I can only imagine how a diagnosis like that would be both completely crushing and completely infuriating. As a survivor, she’s raising awareness for mesothelioma and I am more than happy to have a guest post from her here. Go Heather, go!

Heather Von St. James - Mesothelioma Survivor BlogIt was on November 21, 2005 when I received the startling news that I had become ill with malignant pleural mesothelioma.  I literally felt like my world was crashing down all around me.  Here I was, a mother with a 3 ½-month-old child, wondering if I’d live long enough to see her first birthday.

I was facing my greatest fear.  This was truly a defining moment for me.  This is that moment in time where I’d realize just how strong I was, and what I was truly capable of.  I had so much to live for …

I was referred to one of the world’s leading mesothelioma physicians, Dr. David Sugarbaker, who had been practicing at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.   He gave me hope that I could live to raise my daughter.  And I needed that, given the grim prospects for mesothelioma patients.  I had been researching mesothelioma, and I read that only 2 percent of individuals lived beyond 5 years after being diagnosed.  I decided that I could be among that 2 percent.  I could beat mesothelioma.   I was determined to face any challenges I’d meet along the way in beating the condition head-on.  I was in the fight of my life.  During that year, I devoted all of my energy toward fighting mesothelioma.  As a part of the treatment, I had to have surgery in Boston-1900 miles away from my young child, who was now six months old.  The tumor was located around my left lung, and I ended up having it surgically removed.

After surgery, I had to undergo several months of chemo and radiation.  For the first year of my daughter’s life, I was sick.  My supportive family and friends helped me with her as I received mesothelioma treatment.  I’m thankful for my family and friends who were there for me during that tough time.  When her first birthday arrived, we celebrated it in a major way.  Family and friends came from all over to be a part of this very special celebration.  Within one year of being diagnosed with mesothelioma, I had been declared cancer free and completed my final radiation treatment.

I had learned so much from that experience.  I’ve learned that you can’t take life for granted.  I think that the cancer helped me see life in a new light.  I don’t take the small things for granted anymore.  For the first time in my life, I feel as though I truly understand what it is to live.

On this special journey, I met some amazing people who were also battling this cancer.  And although many of those people didn’t make it through, they hold a special place in my heart, for they were a source of inspiration for me.  It is in memory of those people that I’ve decided to help raise awareness for mesothelioma.  It is my hope that I can help shed light on the condition and help the public put a face to the disease.

I will continue to live my life to the fullest, enjoying every little moment along the way.  And even on the bad days, I’m reminded of what all I have to be grateful for.  To me, that is truly what life is about.

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After nearly 3 years of TTC and the help of ART, we got pregnant on our 5th IVF/FET transfer after IVF #2. Our beautiful fraternal twin boys were born on 7/15/11 at 37w0d.

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