Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Guest Post by Heather Von St. James : Getting Through the Dark Days for Lily

On August 4th, 2005, my beautiful daughter Lily was born, and things could not have been better. My pregnancy was relatively uneventful besides an emergency C-section for delivery, and then all our friends and family surrounded us. With my husband by my side, I greeted the members of our “village,” and I had no idea what was to come. 

I went back to work soon after Lily was born, but something didn’t feel quite right. I was breathless, and on top of that, I was tired all the time. I am an energetic person, and suddenly, I had no energy. It could have been the stress of having a newborn around, but I knew it was something else. I consulted a doctor, and then we were shocked with the results.

I will always remember November 21, 2005 as the day that I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. This malignant cancer was caused by childhood exposure to asbestos, and all of my symptoms lined up. This cancer attacks the lungs, which accounted for my breathlessness.

When I got the diagnosis, I was shocked, but then when I looked into the faces of my husband and my new daughter, my course was clear. Without mesothelioma treatment, I only had 15 months to live. Because mesothelioma is so aggressive, we opted for the most drastic measures possible. Leaving Lily with my parents, my husband and I flew to Boston. On February 2nd of the following year, I had a procedure known as a extra pleural pneumonectomy. My lung was removed and after 18 days in the hospital and 2 months of recovery, I started chemotherapy and radiation.

This would not have been possible at all if my parents hadn’t stepped in. They were with us in spirit, and they took Lily and began to raise her in our place. Because they worked full time, their church group ended up taking over some of Lily’s care, and even where they weren’t taking of Lily, this vibrant community continued to chip in, helping my parents with chores, food and support. This outpouring of love surprised and humbled me. While some people I thought I could rely on were nowhere to be found, other people I never would have expected to help showed up and asked to be useful!

I won’t say that there were never dark days. I was missing out on a part of my daughter’s life that I would never get back, and though my parents sent emailed pictures and the nurses adored seeing my new baby, some days I just had to hold back torrents of tears. I was fighting for my life and those pictures told me that I was right to do it!

Life isn’t easy, but it is so rich. I have embraced my life, and though my cancer experience was one of the darkest times in my life, I learned so much. I learned about myself and about the community that surrounded me, always willing to come through with love and support. 

Guest post written by Heather Von St. James; Courageous mother, wife and survivor of mesothelioma cancer. Read more about Heather and Mesothelioma here.