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Monday, March 11, 2013

Even Cancer Can Have a Silver Lining

Today's post is from guest blogger, Heather Von St. James. You can read more about her incredible journey on her blog at www.mesothelioma.com. Click here to go directly to her page!


Sometimes life can throw you a curve that changes everything in your life. It happened to me when I was 36. That year, I experienced an extreme shift of emotions. The height of my happiness was on August 4, 2006, when my daughter Lily was born. As we celebrated the new member of our family with our loved ones, my husband and I had no idea that the worst times were on the horizon.

I returned to work just 4 weeks after Lily's birth, but I just didn't feel right. My energy was gone and I was losing weight uncontrollably at a tune of about 5 to 7 pounds per week. I knew something was wrong, and my suspicions were soon confirmed.

My doctor performed a battery of tests on me. We were figuring that the results would come back with a simple problem with an easy solution. Unfortunately we were wrong and about 15 weeks after Lily's birth, my doctor told me that I had mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. It turned out that I had been unknowingly exposed to asbestos when I was just a little girl. I was told that I needed to begin treatment immediately, or I wouldn't live much longer than a year.

All I could think of was Lily and my husband. What would they do without me? My husband and I immediately agreed that I should take whatever steps were necessary to heal me. We traveled from Minnesota to Boston so that I could undergo the most aggressive treatment. Under the steady hand of a skilled surgeon, I had an extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery. My cancerous lung and parts of my diaphragm, chest lining and heart lining were removed. I spent 18 days in the hospital and two months later, I began chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

While I was in Boston, Lily went to live with my mother at my parents' home in South Dakota. Her grandparents took care of her during my treatment as well as during my recovery. They had a great support network of family and friends who helped them care for her. I doubt if I'll ever be able to thank them enough for all that they did. I missed a lot of things during my treatment, but I needed to concentrate on my recovery so that I could be with her for the rest of her life. It was a tough decision, but I think any other mother would have done it.

There is a silver lining to this cloud. My entire family appreciates life more since my experience, and I appreciate them more. Lily and the rest of my family gave me a reason to live.

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