Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Guest Post: It Takes a Village

 I haven't ever done guest posts before, but a reader contacted me about sharing her story and I thought it was an beautiful one and definitely worth lending my space here.  So, I'm stepping back today and letting Heather share her heart. It's honestly also a pretty convicting one- it makes me think about who around me could be struggling and could benefit from me reaching out and being part of the "village".

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It Takes a Village - An Inspiring Story of a New Mother Battling Cancer

The expression, “it takes a village” is thrown around a lot once you have a child. This saying has had an incredible impact on my life and has become an expression I’ve truly come to believe in. I gave birth to my daughter on August 4th, 2005. I had a normal pregnancy, free of complications aside from an emergency C-section during delivery. Our “village” immediately surrounded us after her birth. My parents, my husband’s family, and many friends came to meet our beautiful daughter, Lily, and wish us well. Everything was perfect.

Within the first month of returning to work full time, things started going downhill. I started to feel very tired, breathless, and with little energy. Although these symptoms could be attributed to being a new mother, I knew in my heart that something was wrong. I visited my doctor who did a myriad of tests and eventually found the culprit.

On November 21, 2005, just 3 ½ short months after Lily came into our lives, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a cancer in the lining of the lung, caused primarily by asbestos exposure. I had unknowingly been exposed to asbestos as a child and now, 30 years later, symptoms I originally thought were just from being a new mother were actually symptoms of cancer.

The first thought that came to my mind after my diagnosis was my sweet baby Lily. I was told that if I did nothing, I would have 15 months left to live. The thought of Lily and my husband alone without me broke my heart. At that moment, we knew we had to do whatever it took to save my life. As the mesothelioma prognosis is grim, we decided to do the most drastic option offered. My husband and I flew to Boston under the care of one of the best mesothelioma doctors while Lily stayed with my parents. On February 2nd, 2006, I underwent a treatment called extrapleural pneumenectomy, a surgery that removed my left lung. I then spent 18 days in the hospital recovering, and then an additional 2 more months recovering before going through chemotherapy and radiation, all while being a brand new mother.

I don’t think we could have survived if it wasn’t for our “village” surrounding us with love, support, and prayers. We made new friends in Boston and surrounded ourselves with amazing people who were going through the same thing. Many people from different areas of our lives that we never expected came to our side with support, while others we thought we could depend on fled. Cancer taught me who would really be there and who wouldn’t as soon as times get tough. Nonetheless, we managed each day with the support and love of the wonderful people who surrounded us.

Lily was living with my parents while we were in Boston. Suddenly, my parents went from being grandparents, to taking over the role of raising her. They in turn, had their own village that came to help and support them. Children that I babysat when I was a teenager, who were now married and had kids of their own, volunteered to babysit Lily while both my parents had to work. People who I went to church with growing up surrounded my parents with love and support. My baby girl was learning to eat food, scoot and roll around. All of these events I witnessed through grainy black and white copies of pictures my mom e-mailed and my husband printed off a community printer for me. The nurses would come in to see the pictures and they would “ooh” and “ahh” over her just like I did as I tried to hold back tears. She was the reason I was fighting for my life. She was in the best hands possible while I went through treatment. The bond between my parents and Lily runs deep, despite the fact that miles and months now go between visits.

Cancer has taught my family a lot about life. We really embrace life now, as we know how fragile it can be. We have done the best with the hand we were dealt. As my favorite quote says, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

Along with all of the bad things that come with cancer, comes a lot of good as well. As dire as my diagnosis was, a whole lot of love, support, and learning has come from it too. Although it has been a tough road, I am thankful for all of the good things that have come out of it. Embrace all that life throws at you.

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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.


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