Friday, April 13, 2012

Heather's Cancer Survivor Story

Recently a fellow blogger contacted me, asking if she could guest post on my blog. Heather wanted to share her special story of cancer survival because: (in her own words) "I'd like to turn my pain into purpose and become someone that other people can look to for guidance, inspiration, and hope in situations like my own. I contacted you because I feel that your blog would be an excellent place for me to share my story."

Although this request came out of the blue, and I have never actually met Heather, I agreed to let her become my first guest blogger because I was honored she wanted to share her story on my blog and because my father is also a cancer survivor.

So, here is Heather Von St. James and her cancer survivor story:

Battling Cancer with Hope and Gratitude

My whole world changed when one of my worst fears came true on November 21st, 2005, when I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. That is a scientific way of saying deadly cancer. I felt like the world was crashing down around me. I had given birth to my only child just three months before being diagnosed, and now I was facing a life-threatening illness. After the cancer was discovered, I also  earned that I could be stronger than I ever thought possible.

Dr. David Sugarbaker is one of the world's leading mesothelioma doctors. I was referred to him at Brigham and Women's hospital in Boston, and the doctor changed my outlook on life and this disease. Even though the statistics on mesothelioma are unfavorable, Dr. Sugarbaker gave me hope. I knew that only two percent of mesothelioma patients survive more than five years following their diagnosis and I knew that I was going to be part of that two percent. I knew I was going to survive to raise my daughter. Dr. Sugarbaker gave me that hope, and I ran with it.

I became determined to defeat the cancer and all of its pain, despair and effects. For the next year, every drop of energy I had was spent battling the disease. I left my six-month-old daughter with my parents almost 2000 miles away to pursue a major surgery in Boston in an effort to save my life. My left lung was removed, along with the tumor.

During the following months, I balanced chemo and radiation therapy with raising my daughter. She never knew how sick I was during her first year of life thanks to the support and help of my friends and family. Her first birthday fell near the anniversary of my diagnosis. That day, we celebrated Lily's birthday and the remarkable success I had battling this disease. My last radiation treatment took place eleven months after my diagnosis. After completing the treatment, I promised myself that I would remain free of cancer.

My experience with cancer taught be to appreciate all things in life, even those that seem small. Cancer has taught me to take delight in Lily's laughter, the warm breath of puppies and the rainbow that streaks through the sky after rain. All of these seemingly small things remind me that life is for living.

My journey to remission has been filled with amazing people that I will never forget, people who fought cancer just like I did. Some made it, while other succumbed to the disease. Some of these people stood by their loved ones as they fought mesothelioma. Each of these people are warriors in my mind. They are fighters that battled this disease with a passion and tenacity that still inspires me today. They are the face of mesothelioma, not those that you see on daytime television commercials. They are the real people behind this terrible disease.

Today, I continue to live life as it was meant to be lived, with passion, love, and gratitude. Even on my worst days, I appreciate the small things. Battling cancer has taught me that that is what life is all about.
If you would like to know more about Heather, her blog is

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