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Friday, November 18, 2011

Extraordinary Women: Heather & Pleural Mesothelioma

I was contacted by Heather about a month ago asking if we would be willing to add some links to our sidebar or find some other way to help share her struggles with Mesothelioma. I had been considering starting a series about women who have a story to tell - women who have endured through and overcome great struggles. I guess I was looking for something inspirational that would connect us as all women. That was when this series was born.

So as the start to this series, I'd like to welcome Heather Von St James - a Mesothelioma survivor. Check out Heather's blog to find out more about her struggles. Without further adieu, here's Heather.

We All Need A Village

It takes a village. The saying is heard, quoted, and spouted all the time, but unlike other frequently used quips, this saying is no cliché. And I should know. My pregnancy would be considered textbook. Morning sickness wasn’t an issue, and everything was going along as planned. Yet when it was time for me to meet this new little person face to face, we found out the baby was breach. The decision came swiftly to opt for C-section. Minutes later, on August 4th, 2005, we met our beautiful, healthy baby girl. My parents, family, in-laws, and friends began showing up to meet Lily and see how I was doing. Life was great at that moment, but I had no idea what was coming. And I had no idea that I would suddenly view these well-wishers in my life as the village I needed.

Before Lily, I spent my days running one of three salons that I co-owned. With over 20 employees, I not only worked as a hairdresser myself, but I also managed the place. As a brand new mom, I found out that I would need to start managing a different salon. The workload would be easier but the initial logistical nightmare and the time away from Lily broke my heart.

A few weeks after returning to the full-time labor force, my health took a dive. I had no energy, I was out of breath, and my weight fell off at a frightening pace. By November, the doctor wanted a full work up. They discovered fluid around my lung, but worst of all they discovered cancer. Plueral Mesothelioma was the diagnosis, a cancer from being exposed to asbestos when I was a child. The prognosis was 15 months to live unless I did something drastic.

I flew across the country and went under the knife. Extrapleural pneumenectomy took out my left lung as well as the surrounding tissues, lymph nodes and diaphragm. Surgical Gore-Tex replaced my diaphragm and the surrounding tissues around my heart. While the doctor worked, a heated chemo wash was used to help my chances followed by two weeks of recuperating in the hospital and a mere two months rest before chemo and radiation.

Without our “village” surrounding us with love and support, it wouldn’t have been possible. Lily stayed with my parents while I was in Boston undergoing surgery and treatment. Without a “village” surrounding my parents, they wouldn’t have been able to continue their jobs and still take care of our little baby.

After those rough days, I chose to stay at home with Lily. Knowing first-hand the impact of generosity, giving to others is now part of our life. Because of the village, Lily is growing up to be a person with a kind heart. So despite the horrors of cancer, I now embrace life and the village around me. And for that, I am thankful.

Thank you so much, Heather, for sharing your story with us. I'm so glad that you have such a great support system - your very own village. Your words are inspirational! We wish you all the best! 

If you'd like to share your story with the readers of Life in the Motherhood, please submit your information. And even though this series is called "Extraordinary Women," you don't have to be struggling with something as serious as cancer to featured. Don't be shy - I'd love to hear from and feature you!!  


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