Heather Beat Cancer, It Didn’t Beat Her

Heather Von St James is on the mom blog today to share her story of her plight with cancer. Meet Heather:

I Beat Cancer, It Didn’t Beat Me

I had it all. I was part owner of a successful salon company, and I managed and ran one of the salons. I was happily married, and we decided to have a baby. After a nearly perfect pregnancy, I delivered a healthy baby girl, Lily, via C-section. Everything seemed to be just about perfect.

After spending time at home with Lily I went back to work. Although I wasn’t thrilled about it, I was called on to change the salon I worked at which wasn’t perfect, but I went where I was needed. Then I began to feel tired, I had no breath, no energy. At first I figured this was just the result of being a new mother and taking on the added stress of being in a new location and working too hard. But then I started losing weight. I was losing from five to seven pounds a week. I went to my doctor, and after explaining my symptoms, I underwent several tests. The doctor found fluid buildup around my left lung. I had biopsies done and I found out the terrible news—I had malignant pleural mesothelioma. This cancer is in the lining of the lung caused by asbestos exposure. I had been exposed to asbestos in my childhood, 30 years earlier.

I was told that I had 15 months to live if we took no action. As I looked at my husband and thought about Lily, I knew that we had to do whatever was necessary, and my husband and I decided that the best option for us was to take the most aggressive form of treatment available. We flew to Boston and I underwent extra-pleural pneumenectomy which involved removing my left lung, all surrounding tissue, lymph nodes, and diaphragm on the left side, as well as the lining of my heart and one of my ribs. My diaphragm and the lining of my heart were replaced with surgical Gore-Tex. I also had heated chemotherapy during surgery to kill any further cancer cells. I spent 18 more days in the hospital recovering, then two more months before I started chemo and radiation.

Meanwhile, my parents were taking care of Lily in South Dakota. Many kind-hearted folks in their community helped them. Little girls whom I had babysat when they were little were helping my parents. As I recovered in the hospital, my parents were sending pictures of my little girl as she learned to eat real food and scoot and roll around on the floor. It was hard not to cry when I looked at those pictures, but then again, she is why I was going through all of this.
Although I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone, I have learned that people are there for you and willing to help. There have been a great number of friends and family, who have stepped up, and now five years later, Lily is a regular little lady who donates her toys to those in need, and she is a friend to everyone.

Missing one lung made it impossible to go back to work, I have been blessed beyond all I could have hoped for and beyond what I thought possible. My favorite quote is “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” My family and I are still enjoying our banquet.


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