Thursday, August 8, 2013

Guest Post - Heather Von St. James

Several months ago, Heather contacted me about writing a guest post detailing her struggles as a new mother.  Seeing as I am a new mother myself, I happily agreed.  Without further ado, here's Heather...

Embracing Life As a New Mother With Cancer

On August 4, 2005, when I was 36, my husband and I were overjoyed with the birth of our daughter, Lily. We were thrilled to share our firstborn with loved ones.

Unfortunately, this tender bliss was short lived.

I went back to work full-time 4 weeks after Lily was born. Not long after, I started to have no energy and was constantly tired. This could have been explained by new motherhood, but I was losing between 5 and 7 pounds a week. I felt something else was wrong.

Just 14 weeks after Lily's arrival, after undergoing a ton of tests, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a cancer in the lining of the lung, caused by asbestos exposure. I had been exposed to asbestos as a child without knowing it. The doctor gave me a prognosis of fifteen months to live if I refused treatment.

The news was devastating. What would Lily and my husband do without me? We made the decision together that we would do whatever it took to beat this. We chose the most drastic form of treatment offered to us, which took us from our home in Minnesota to Boston. On Feb 2, 2006, I underwent an extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery by one of the best mesothelioma doctors there is. This procedure involved the removal of the cancerous lung, as well as parts of the chest lining, heart lining, and half of my diaphragm. I endured 18 days in the hospital, and then two months of recovery followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

While undergoing treatment in Boston, Lily flew with my mother to her home in South Dakota, which was my childhood home. My parents have many friends and family who gladly volunteered to help out. I will never be able to truly express my gratitude to these people. They may not realize it, but they are a huge part of the reason that we were able to get through this. I missed many important firsts in Lily’s life. It was so hard to be away from her, but I knew deep down that she was in the best hands possible. I was trying to be the best mother I could under the circumstances; I was fighting to be there for the rest of her life.

Lily gave me a reason to continue the fight. As terrible as cancer is, it brought some good with it. Our family has a deeper appreciation for the sanctity of life now. We have seen how precarious it can be. My advice to anyone going through a tough time is to try to find the good, even in the worst situations.

If you want to follow more of Heather's story - check out her blog

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