Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fighting Cancer As A New Mother- Guest Post

The following is a guest submission from Heather Von St. James.  She is a wife, mother and brave cancer survivor. It's hard to read Heather's story and not feel a deep appreciation for your own life.  She strives to bring hope, inspiration and guidance to people who find themselves in her situation.

I gave birth to my daughter, Lily, on August 4th, 2005. Aside from an emergency C-section at the end, I had a relatively simple and complication-free pregnancy. Our family and friends immediately joined us to meet Lily and wish us well. Everything in our lives seemed to be going perfectly, and we had no idea what was in store for us just a short time later.

Soon after returning to work full time, I felt that something was wrong: My energy levels decreased, I ran out of breath quickly, and generally felt weak. Though these symptoms could have possibly been attributable to being a new mother, I decided to see my doctor. After several tests, we found what was wrong: pleural mesothelioma in the lining of my lung. It turned out that, unbeknownst to me, I had been around asbestos while I was growing up, which is the leading cause of this cancer. This diagnosis came on November 21, 2005, a mere 3 1/2 months after I gave birth to Lily.

My thoughts immediately focused on Lily. I was told that, without treatment, I had approximately 15 months to live and, as I looked at my husband and thought of him and my daughter alone, I knew we had no choice but to do everything in our power to fight this cancer. In early February, I went into surgery for a treatment for mesothelioma called extrapleural pneumenectomy and my left lung was taken out. Following the surgery, I spent 18 days in recovery at the hospital and, two months later, began chemotherapy and radiation, all in my first few months of motherhood.

None of this would have been possible without the support of our family and friends.  While my husband and I were in Boston, Lily lived with my parents in South Dakota. Since they both had full time jobs to work, several women, who were girls that I used to babysit when I was a teenager, volunteered to babysit for my parents, further adding to my support network. Lots of old friends and acquaintances provided support for my parents, and we made new friends while in Boston. This extensive support network, with its care and love, is how we managed to cope during this time.

All the while, Lily was growing up quickly with my parents, learning to eat and move about. My parents would send me pictures that I kept with me and, like I did, the nurses would come and ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at them. This was what kept me going and fighting: staying alive for Lily. She could not have been in better hands and, to this day, she has a strong bond with my parents from their experience.

Thanks to this experience, we have learned to embrace life for all that it is, taking the good with the bad. Through it all we have really learned the power of bonds with friends and family, and how their support can be just enough to keep you going, even in the worst of times.

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