Guest Blogger ~ Heather Von St. James

Happy Friday, UA Blog Readers!

Today we have a very special post. Guest Blogger Heather Von St. James has contributed an article about her battle with Mesothelioma, how she overcame the cancer, and how it has impacted her life. Her story is truly inspirational and depicts an amazing recovery. We hope you enjoy her post and are as touched by it as we are here at UA. Thank you, Heather!

Lung Leaving Day

By: Heather Von St. James

My name is Heather Von St James, and I am a 5 1/2 year mesothelioma survivor.

I was diagnosed with the rare cancer on November 21st, 2005, just 3 1/2 months after the birth of my one and only baby girl.

This was not just any cancer; this was mesothelioma. Mesothelioma affects about 3,000 people a year and is almost always associated by asbestos exposure. It is believed that I was exposed to asbestos as a child. The disease manifested within my lungs and appeared almost 30 years later.

My choice of treatment was radical because the mesothelioma life expectancy rate is a matter of months.  I had undergone an extrapleural pneumonectomy with adjuvant intrapleural heated chemotherapy. In particular this surgical procedure involved the removal of my left lung and all of its surrounding tissue.  As well as my 6 TH rib was removed. During the surgery, a heated chemotherapy wash was done inside my chest cavity. A solution of Cisplatin was heated up to 140 degrees, pumped into my chest, left for an hour, and then pumped back out. My diaphragm and the lining of my heart where replaced with surgical gore-Tex and then I was closed back up. It takes radical measures to get rid of a radical cancer.

After 18 days in the hospital and two more weeks of recovery in the Boston area I was sent home to my baby. However, my treatment was not yet complete. The final 2 parts of my treatment consisted of 4 sessions of chemotherapy and 30 sessions of radiation. Keep in mind; I experienced all of this with a new baby at home to love and care for.

Thank God for my family and support systems. They proved to be key factors in getting through such a difficult time. My faith in God and my sense of humor also helped to push me through one of life’s greatest challenges.  Two special people in my life, my sister and my husband nicknamed the day of my surgery “LungleavingDay ” and every year on the first Saturday of February we celebrate “LungleavingDay.” We have a huge party with a giant bonfire and we take dinner plates, write our fears on them, and then smash them into the fire! This is an important way to conquer our fears. It has become a celebration of epic proportions with over 70 people celebrating with us.

We are given but one life, and it does not always go according to plan. Mine certainly didn’t.  In hindsight, I would not change a thing. Cancer gives you clarity in life; it lets you really concentrate on what matters and what doesn’t.  Family, Faith, and humor are all that matters to me.

3 thoughts on “Guest Blogger ~ Heather Von St. James

  1. My husband was diagnost in January 2008 with stage three mesothelioma. He under went chemo, surgery, having both the heart lining and diaphram done the same way as yourself. Before surgery he had light therapy done, which was suppose to remove all the unseen particles. While in surgery he went into renal failure. He was doing really well until July 2010, when we were informed that the cancer had returned. He once again had chemo, but in March 2011 we decided no more chemo. He has had a stroke, losingsigh in his left eye, has been in and out of the hospital, but recently was admitted for blood clots in his lung. Watching him travel this journey has been the most difficult thing God has asked of me. We know that God is in control, we know God chooses the time line, but this is hard. I am glad that you are doing well and have been able to celebrate special moments with your family and friends.

  2. Dear Heather, Im so happy for you that God gave you a second chance to spend with your new baby girl. Im very happy for you and your family. Thank God for family.

  3. Soo touched by your story! I’m 30yrs old and lost my first ‘piece’ of lung when I was 18 in Nursing School. Every year I’ve gotten progressively worse, to the point I had to stop being an RN and work as a coder-away from patients. I’ve recently started with a Doctor who is going to research what I do have-because they do not know. My lungs are scarring, with blebs, and nodules..For now there’s no treatment or cure. I know how difficult it is to suffer from lung problems, and I wish you the very best! Please let me know if you ever need anyone to talk to!

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