Mesothelioma Awareness Day is observed each year on September 26th, but awareness needs to happen year round. Today, I am sharing a guest post from Heather Von St. James. This is the story of her journey with mesothelioma. She is a huge advocate for mesothelioma awareness! Please read her story and share it with your loved ones.
At the age of 36, just 3 ½ months after giving birth to my daughter Lily, my husband Cameron and I sat in my doctor’s office and heard the words, “You have cancer.” Coming after weeks of what I thought were postpartum symptoms ranging from weight loss and exhaustion to shortness of breath we found the reason. My diagnosis was malignant pleural mesothelioma. This is a rare and extremely aggressive cancer almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos that we later learned I was unwittingly exposed to as a child from wearing my father’s dusty work coat each day to do my chores.
Without treatment he told me I had at best 15 months to live. Lily would not even be two years old by then. There are no words to describe that kind of devastation. My only chance for more time came when my doctor told me about a specialist in Boston. He was the leading expert in a pioneering new surgery specifically for pleural mesothelioma. If it was successful, it could give me 5 to 10 more years. Without hesitation, Cams and I knew we had to get to Boston.
Treatment for mesothelioma
On February 2, 2006, I underwent a surgery called an extra pleural pneumonectomy. That day one rib, my left lung and lining were removed, along with the lining of my heart and half my diaphragm which were replaced with surgical gor-tex. In order to try and get as many cancer cells that might have been left afterwards, a cocktail of chemotherapy drugs warmed to 140 degrees were pumped through my chest cavity. Thanks to my surgeon, Dr. David Sugarbaker, and Cams by my side I’m incredibly thankful and glad to say the surgery was successful. I’m standing here today 10 years later.
Of course, four rounds of chemotherapy and an additional six weeks of radiation followed after my month in the hospital, with regular scans every six months to ensure the cancer has not returned. But I’m here. I’ve been able to watch my beautiful Lily grow into a strong, amazing 11 year old with Cams, and not a day goes by that I’m not thankful that I’ve been here to be her mother.
Being a cancer survivor is not something I take for granted. Being a mesothelioma cancer survivor in particular is not something I take lightly. Putting the pieces of everyday life back together after cancer I realized my “normal” was gone forever. Losing Lily’s first year of life, my career, my lung, and the healthy life I should have had with my family are things I still struggle with, as all cancer survivors have to work to find their new normal.
Advocating for Mesothelioma Patients
The fact that these were taken from me by an entirely preventable cancer has driven me to find my voice as an advocate for those affected by mesothelioma. I have met countless incredible individuals who have just been diagnosed, current patients fighting to beat it and sadly far too many friends lost to this cancer. Due to it’s long latency period, mesothelioma can take between 15-50 years to develop and show symptoms. Awareness and education are the only ways to prevent this devastating cancer.
Alongside other advocates, family members and supporters, I’ve devoted my life and time to fighting for the mesothelioma community and working to see asbestos banned in the US. It’s unconscionable that we are still importing and using asbestos to this day. It’s unacceptable that so many have no idea of the real dangers of asbestos. This is in our homes, schools and most buildings built before 1980.
Mesothelioma Awareness Day
Mesothelioma Awareness Day is observed each year on September 26th, but awareness needs to happen year round. Supporting cancer research so that this rare cancer gets the funding and attention it deserves, educating ourselves on the dangers of asbestos and working to ensure that asbestos is fully banned are all things we can do to fight and honor those who are no longer here to stand with us.
I’m doing everything I can to shed light on this issue and support this community and I work everyday to educate even just one more person. Together we can make a difference, together we can raise awareness and that’s the most powerful place to start.
For any inquiries or assistance regarding legal and financial assistance with mesothelioma cancer, visit MesotheliomaLawyerCenter.org