Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Guest Post: Living For Lily people talking about villages raising children, I never knew what it meant until just a few years ago. It all started when I gave birth to my beautiful daughter Lily on August 4, 2005. After an easy birth, I was surrounded by my friends and family. I never felt safer or more secure and I had no idea what was about to happen.

Soon after I returned to work, I could tell that something was not right. While some people could say that the tiredness and fatigue were a natural part of becoming the mother of a newborn, I quickly realized that something was wrong. It took dozens of tests before I got back the dire diagnosis of mesothelioma cancer on November 21, 2005.

I have never felt so stunned or panicked as I did then, but more quickly than I would have thought possible, my resolve firmed. I realized that I need to rally my strength and my will, and I needed to fight for the possibility of staying with my husband and my daughter. I couldn’t stand the thought of being apart from them, and so I opted for the most drastic treatment plan.

On February of the next year, before Lily was even a year old, my husband and I flew to Boston for a extrapleural pneumenectomy. This procedure removed one of my lungs, something that was terrifying to think about. I remained in the hospital for 18 days under observation, and then, two months later, I started a round of chemotherapy and radiation.

During this time, I had to be apart from my beloved daughter. We weren’t sure what to do with her while we were in Boston, but my parents rose to the challenge. They brought Lily into my childhood home in South Dakota, and they did this even knowing that they both had to work. Their community came to their rescue, and their church group stepped in to make sure that Lily was always taken care of. Imagine how touched I was when my mother told me about girls that I had babysat showing up on my doorstop to offer to help out with Lily!

I won’t say that there weren’t dark moments. After all, the treatment I chose was extremely rough on my body, and there was plenty of time away from home. My daughter was growing so quickly and I wasn’t around to see it, though the people around me did their best. My mother emailed plenty of pictures and my husband printed them out for me on a community printer. All of my nurses stopped by on a regular basis to see how my daughter was growing, and it made me smile even if I occasionally had to blink back tears.

Life is funny sometimes. I never knew what an amazing support network I had around myself before I got cancer, and now that I do know, I feel grateful every day. This is something that makes a huge difference to how I think about things, and it gives me hope.

Heather Von St James is a 43-year-old wife and mother. Upon her diagnosis of mesothelioma, she vowed to be a source of hope for other patients who found themselves with the same diagnosis. Now, over 6 years later, her story has been helping people all over the globe. She continues her advocacy and awareness work by blogging, speaking and sharing her message of hope and healing with others. Check out her story at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog


  1. I want to reach through my computer and hug you right now. I cannot imagine going through what you have. The strength and courage you have shown are an inspiration to me, and I'm sure, many others.

    It is truly amazing what happens when people come together to support one another and though I don't know you, I'm so happy that you were able to find that support.

    I wish you all the best,
    Life with our Family

  2. My goodness! I cannot imagine having to go through something like that. I hope and pray that you are doing better. But thankfully you had an amazing support network. Wow! And I complain! I have nothing to complain about!

  3. Heather guest posted on my blog, too, isn't she amazing?


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