I am honored to have a special guest post today from ten year mesothelioma survivor, Heather Von St. James, to spread awareness on Mesothelioma Awareness Day.
September 26th marks a day very important to me. Mesothelioma Awareness Day. I’m sure many don’t even know what mesothelioma is. To be honest, I didn’t really either until my life was turned upside down by an unexpected diagnosis.
I knew something was wrong. I had been feeling unwell for a while, losing too much weight and having difficulty breathing. But when the doctor told me I had mesothelioma and without treatment I’d have only 15 months to live, I really couldn’t breathe. I was a new mom. Just over three months prior, I had given birth to our beautiful daughter, Lily Rose. My husband, Cameron, and I were just starting to get the hang of being parents. I was only 36. How could this have even happened?
Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos and has a latency period of 20 to 50 years. Thinking back, I realized I was exposed as a young girl. My dad worked in construction and I’d often wear his dust covered jacket as I completed chores or played outside. Had we known that dust contained asbestos, my world could be very different today.
We wasted no time figuring out a plan of action. With a dire prognosis hanging over our heads, we knew we had to do whatever it took to get through this. I flew to Boston for surgery where they removed one of my lungs. My recovery wasn’t easy and when I was finally able to fly home a month later, I still faced many obstacles. While I stayed with my parents and Lily in South Dakota, Cam remained working in Minnesota so we could afford my treatments. I was finally well enough after 3 months to return home to Minnesota to start the next phase of treatment. I had to go through chemotherapy followed by an intensive radiation treatment that lasted a grueling 30 days.
Treatment felt like it destroyed my body. I lost 100 pounds, I was dehydrated, and I honestly didn’t know if I could get through it. It drained me. Not being able to care for my daughter myself, on top of the physical toll on my body, at times felt unbearable. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and my amazing family and the wonderful nurses really helped carry me through the toughest days of treatment.
Though we made it through and I can now say I’m over 10 years cancer free, the journey hasn’t been easy. I missed a year of Lily’s firsts as a baby, had to leave a job I loved, and continue to live with the reality that my cancer could return. But despite such a difficult journey and all the fears that linger, I’m grateful for my health, my family, and the mesothelioma community I’ve surrounded myself in. Being able to write about my journey and help educate others gives me hope that one day other families won’t face such a scary prognosis like mine.
So September 26th, Mesothelioma Awareness Day, means a great deal to me. It’s a day to celebrate current patients, survivors, and bring awareness to this often forgotten disease and the toxin that causes it. I want everyone to realize the real dangers of asbestos and help fight for the global ban we need. Until that happens, my work isn’t done.
Bio: Heather Von St. James is a ten year mesothelioma survivor. She now dedicates her time to raising awareness around this rare, preventable cancer and educating others on the dangers of asbestos, the toxin that causes this disease.