Guest Post: Dealing with Cancer — Surviving as a New Mother by Heather Von St. James

How This Guest Post Came To Pass.

Date: Fri, March 29, 2013 2:58 pm

Hi there!

The reason I have reached out to you is because of your blog! I am 44 and a mother to a quirky little 7 year old, Lily. She is my only child, and my whole world. When Lily was just 3 1/2 months old, I was diagnosed with Mesothelioma; a type of cancer that kills 90-95% of those who have it. As I’m sure you can imagine, the first thing that came to mind when I was diagnosed was my baby girl and how I wasn’t going to be able to watch her grow up.

After intense treatment and recovery, I’m still here almost 7 years later and cancer free! My journey with cancer was a terrifying one and I’d like to turn my pain into purpose and become someone that other people can look to for guidance, inspiration, and hope in situations like my own. I contacted you because I feel that your blog would be an excellent place for me to share my story. I realize that you may be thinking my story is not exactly a perfect fit for your blog audience, but I’m trying to raise awareness of this horrible little known cancer that is such a deadly killer (and sadly, 100% preventable) Would you accept a guest post from me about my journey as a new mother with cancer and the dangers of asbestos? I would love if you could at least include my link in your blogroll! Here is the link to my blog if you want to read some of my story: Either one would be such a great help to me.

Let me know what you think!


Dealing with Cancer: Surviving as a New Mother

Screen Shot 2012-07-26 at 8.00.52 AMFor many people facing the challenge of cancer, it doesn’t seem like there will be a brighter day in the midst of treatment. However, for many reasons, cancer survivors can promise that there truly is a way to have hope and strength. From my experience as a new mother to immediately going into cancer treatment, I realized that sometimes we have to learn these lessons to appreciate the delicate balance of life and the family bonds that tie so many of us together. I experienced my challenge with cancer at the age of 36, just after giving birth to my first and only child Lily. It was at a time that my husband Cameron and I never thought we would experience anything but bliss in our new life.

After Lily came home, things just didn’t feel right. I was tired all of the time, and not just like I didn’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning. I literally couldn’t get out of bed. I had no energy and was on the brink of exhaustion some days. Despite wishing that I could go back to work, I was simply losing too much energy and weight each week to accomplish the most basic of tasks. That was when we went back to the doctor and started running the tests. Three months later, I was called back. Cameron went with me to hear the news.

Sitting in that chair, looking at the doctor, I heard him say the words malignant pleural mesothelioma. It was a type of cancer that formed from inhaling asbestos. I had been unknowingly exposed to asbestos as a child. In any case, it had gotten into my lungs, chest, heart lining and diaphragm. I only had 15 months to live if I didn’t receive treatment as soon as possible. All of the information hit me like a stone to the head. I was torn up and inconsolable, thinking of everything that I was going to lose, specifically my new life as a mother for Lily. Remembering that time, I think back to the way that Cameron stepped up for me. He was the one who continued to go over treatment options when I just couldn’t bear it. When it came to making a decision, he knew the best thing was to see a mesothelioma specialist in Boston, as there weren’t any mesothelioma programs in Minnesota that could help me.

My treatment was going to start with a life-threatening surgery. My specialist knew that in order to get started, we had to remove all of the existing cancer in my chest. That meant losing one lung, parts of my chest lining, heart lining and diaphragm. I couldn’t imagine what life was going to be like with just one lung, but keeping the infected one that I had was going to make life that much harder to live. The surgery was called extrapleural pneumonectomy. I spent 18 days in recovery after a successful removal. Then, after two more months of recovery I began chemotherapy and radiation. This was the phase that truly felt like a challenge. All the while, I barely saw Lily, even though I pictured her as frequently as I could to keep my strength and hope.

There are many out there who know how deadly cancer can be. Mesothelioma takes about 95 percent of people diagnosed. With help from my family, my own strength and a caring husband, I was able to make it through. My parents took in Lily while I was in treatment. It was difficult for her to stay at home. Cameron was working full time while taking care of me. Eventually, more people found out about my situation and wanted to help. Family members, co-workers, friends, neighbors and even those who we didn’t even know wanted to contribute. I realized then and there that I had such a bigger family than I ever knew. There were many people going through a similar situation or who knew someone who had mesothelioma. As challenging as treatment was and being away from Lily, I believe that it taught me some amazing life lessons.

Today, I’m a cancer-free mother raising a rambunctious and candid storyteller. Lily is seven years old now. Cameron and I love her with all of our being. We can’t thank those people enough who came through for my family and who continue to stay in contact, hearing the tale of how my daughter saved me when I thought I was at my darkest moments. It’s the truth. Without the existence of Lily, I don’t think I would have been as strong as I was during treatment. It was by thinking of her and Cameron, remembering our plans for the future and wanting to be near them that I was able to beat this thing and live on.


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