Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Guest Post: A Battle Well Worth Winning

Some of you may remember my sort of frantic blog posts last fall, when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I'm happy to report that she's finished radiation treatments, and is in remission. My oldest sister is also in remission from thyroid cancer. It is because of their stories that I'm sharing someone else's story with you today. Below you'll find a guest post from Heather Von St James.

Heather Von St James and family.

I received the diagnosis on the 21st of November 2005: deadly cancer.  The name of my disease, malignant pleural mesothelioma, was nearly impossible to pronounce.  On that day in my doctor’s office, my world became a frightening and precarious place.  Previously, I had been a young mother with a beautiful infant just over three months old.  Now I was a cancer patient with a poor prognosis.

The day I received the diagnosis of mesothelioma cancer, I felt as if one of my greatest fears had come true.  I had a life threatening illness.  However, in the days to come I would discover that I was stronger than I had ever imagined myself to be.

My doctor referred me to Dr. David Sugarbaker at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.  Dr. Sugarbaker was recognized in the medical community as the world’s leading mesothelioma specialist. As I learned more about the killing disease that I harbored in my body, I became aware that the survival rate for people with mesothelioma was dishearteningly low.  At the time I was diagnosed, only about two percent of patients with this cancer would survive more than an additional five years.

With the care and encouragement of Dr. Sugarbaker, I resolved to be part of that two percent.  I was determined to fight as I had never fought before.  Over the next 12 months, that is exactly what I did. I fought tooth and nail, pouring all of my dwindling energy reserves into my battle.

My parents stepped forward to care for my baby girl while I engaged in the fight for my life.  My child was just six months old when my medical team removed my left lung and the lining surrounding my tumor.  Separated from me by nearly 2000 miles, she was at the forefront of my thoughts as I underwent and survived surgery.
In the months following the removal of my lung, I cared for my daughter myself while completing courses of chemo and radiation therapy.  Even though I was ill throughout the balance of her first year of life, my daughter was well cared for and unaware of my illness. The assistance of my loving family and good friends made this possible.

We celebrated her first birthday with a splash.  It was not only a celebration of my little girl’s special day but of my survival. I had just completed my radiation treatments when she turned one.  Family and friends gathered around us for a joyous celebration.

With my difficult battle behind me, I am now determined to remain cancer free.  However, I do realize that year-long fight against mesothelioma brought me some valuable insights.  I no longer take happiness and health for granted.  I delight in little things that are the joys of life.  Surviving cancer has helped me to see the world in whole new ways and has inspired me to live my life to the fullest.

I am happy to say that each new day with my daughter is a gift I cherish.  I enjoy every moment we have together.  Even during difficulties, I always find much to be grateful for.  Sometimes you have to fight for your life before you come to fully realize its infinite value.

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 her story at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog

Disclosure: I received no compensation for this post, nor am I affliated with the above mentioned hospital, or any other involved entity. 


  1. Your positive attitude is probably a huge part of your survival. My mum has been living with cancer in various forms (and a rare and usually fatal meningitis in the middle) over the last 12 years and she's still going strong too! Congratulations!

  2. Having just lost a dear friend to breast cancer (also a young mother), it is heartening to hear stories of survival.