One women’s courageous fight with Mesothelioma

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along”.-  Eleanor Roosevelt

Every so often I get that one email that truly touches my heart and moves me to action. It came about a month ago from a fellow Minnesota mom named Heather Von St. James. Heather is a 10-year survivor of a rare cancer called mesothelioma, who against all odds beat the disease, and is a prominent advocate for mesothelioma awareness and an outspoken proponent of banning asbestos. Her beautiful blog “Beating the Odds – My Decade of Mesothelioma Survivorship” and advocacy work for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance continues to spread awareness of the disease, give hope to those fighting the battle and seek justice to stop the use of asbestos in the United States. Here is a brief part of Heather’s story that drew me in. 

Heather, her husband Cameron and daughter Lily

Heather, her husband Cameron and daughter Lily

“A diagnosis that would change my life” written by Heather Von St. James

I remember the waiting. From the cold patient waiting rooms, on hospital beds waiting for the CT machine and biopsy to start and especially the long, to angst filled days at home waiting for results. After all the testing, the poking, prodding and questions to try to figure out my breathlessness, sallow skin and all-consuming exhaustion…my husband, Cameron and I were left to wait for the answers.

These things happened to other people, not to me. That’s all I could think, how surreal all of this was. I had just given birth to my daughter, Lily, how could I be back in the hospital hearing the words CT scan, thoracentesis and “there’s a mass in your lower left lung.” After the years I spent working in a salon and farther back to when I had smoked, I was trying to block out the million thoughts racing through my mind, the heaviest and most terrifying of all – cancer.

Finally, on November 21, 2005, the answer came. It was malignant pleural mesothelioma. Cancer had overtaken the lining of my left lung. Cams and I sat in my doctor’s office too stunned to speak. When Dr. Flink asked me if a family member had worked around asbestos, the image of my father’s dusty work jacket I wore each day as a child to do my chores came flooding back to me.

It was his next words that rocked me back to life, “If you don’t do anything, you have about 15 months to live.” With chemo and radiation I could get up to five years. Five years. Maybe.