Hi everyone. As I’ve slowly been wrapping up the Your Story project, I was recently approached through email with a request to share a different kind of story. Instead of wanting to write about their own hardships and strength, however, they asked that I might do so for them.
I was introduced to a woman by the name of Heather Von St. James. Eight years ago, she and her husband Cameron became the proud parents of their first child, a daughter named Lily. And only a few months later, Heather was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. The short definition: cancer in the lining of the lungs.
She was given fifteen months to live.
I can only imagine the despair that must have washed over them, realizing that she might be taken away from the world, that their daughter might be motherless before her second birthday. I can only imagine how dark their path must have become as they struggled to see any glimpse of light on the other side. And I can only imagine what enormous courage must have come over Heather as she prepared for the fight of her life.
And fight she did. They sought all the help they could get and Heather ended up going through surgery to have one lung removed. The surgery was successful and, despite the terrible odds, she had pulled through. She had rid herself of the cancer and has been living the past eight years cancer-free.
I can only imagine.
Something interesting I found while reading about her story is something called “Lung Leavin’ Day”, which is the anniversary of her lung surgery. Heather writes that she, her family, and her friends get together on this day, take time to write their fears on plates, and take turns smashing them into a fire. Though she has undoubtedly been through hell and back, Heather still doesn’t allow fear to rule her.
When I read about her story, her enormous battle, her tremendous courage, and the triumphant victory over despair and fear, I was so inspired. How can one woman have been through so much and come out the other end still smiling?
Now, the main reason why Heather and Cameron didn’t want to be the ones to tell the story is because their mission is to continue to raise awareness for the terrible disease that is mesothelioma. They wanted me to find out more about it so that I could share it with you and we could come to better understand Heather’s perilous journey together. Shall we?
Some of the things I learned from my research:
- Mesothelioma itself is a form of cancer that occurs in the lining of the lungs and chest cavity. The most common cause? Asbestos, the nasty carcinogen that is far too often used in construction. Heather contracted her mesothelioma from second-hand exposure from her father, who worked in construction.
- Asbestos was widely used several decades ago because it is fire and heat resistant, making it a sought-after material for building supplies such as drywall. Though several countries now ban the use of asbestos in new construction projects, places such as the US, Russia, and China still allow its use.
- About 30 million pounds of asbestos are still being used in the US, even in buildings such as homes and schools. In 1989, most asbestos-containing products were banned, but then they were unbanned in 1991. This is the big reason why mesothelioma is a rising issue.
- There aren’t many treatment options for mesothelioma. Radiation and chemotherapy can be used, but are not often successful. Surgery can also be done, such as the lung removal surgery that Heather underwent, but there are several risks involved, especially if the cancer has spread.
- Every year, about 3000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma. The average prognosis is 10 months left to life. If you break it down, that’s only 300 days and 7200 hours.
- Mesothelioma can sit dormant in the body for 20-50 years.
It’s terrifying, some of these facts, and they bring into sharp focus the dangers of this disease. This was a terrible battle that Heather had to endure, and the hope is that by raising awareness, we might someday be able to find a cure, if not prevent it from happening at all.
Friday, September 26th is the 10th anniversary of Mesothelioma Awareness Day, and I’m sure it would mean a lot to Heather and to other mesothelioma patients if you helped spread the word through your own blogs or other forms of social media, or even if you were able to donate a bit of money to help out.
Heather is a woman of incredible strength to have overcome this dark time in her life, but unfortunately not all those diagnosed possess such fortitude or courage. And so Heather’s story illuminates the power of inspiration and shows so clearly how it can truly help those in need.
If you’d like to learn more about mesothelioma and Heather’s incredible story, you can check out the links below.
Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance (main information page)
This is Heather’s story.
Take care :)