Perhaps you have heard someone say, "It takes a village . . ." Have you ever had the term apply to your life? I have. In August 2005, I was reaching the end of a relatively healthy pregnancy. On August 4th, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter Lily via C-section. Despite the necessity of surgery, we both pulled through just fine. Our friends and family surrounded us with love and we began our life with Lily in our family.
I spent about a month being a mom and then returned to my full time job as the manager of a hair salon. It was not long before I started feeling confusing symptoms. I was exhausted and having a hard time breathing. My doctor ordered a round of tests and we discovered that I had malignant pleural mesothelioma. Lily was only 3 1/2 months old and here I was trying to decide if I would undergo the extreme treatment for mesothelioma that I would have to have or whether 15 months to live was going to be enough.
Anyone would have agreed--fifteen months was definitely not going to cut it. I did not want my husband and Lily to be alone without me, so I took a chance and decided to fight. Our fight took us to Boston, where a mesothelioma doctor removed my left lung on February 2. After that, I was recovering for nearly three months. That was not the end of my treatment for mesothelioma. I still had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation. That is not so easy with an infant you want to raise.
It was tough, but I could not care for Lily without help. That is when the term, "It takes a village . . ." hit home for me. Family, friends, acquaintances, friends of friends and many unexpected helpers built up a village around us, especially Lily. My parents raised her while I was in Boston. Their friends helped them. When I was sick from the treatment, everyone helped. We had our village and we could not have done it without them.
Unfortunately, throughout my time in Boston, my daughter had to be thousands of miles away in South Dakota, where I grew up. I kept track of Lily's progress through photos my mother emailed to me. These photos were a great reminder of why I was there. I was fighting this fight so that I could be there for her throughout her life.
All of us, even members of our village, took away a sense of the need to live life to the fullest. We do not take anything for granted now, because we know how quickly our time can be taken from us.
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 more of her story at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog