My name is Heather Von St. James and I am a mesothelioma cancer survivor. Not many people have heard of mesothelioma, except on late night television when browsing for something good to watch. Mesothelioma used to be known as an old man’s disease, a disease that plagued veterans and construction workers who were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis. Once a person inhales the tiny fibers, they lodge themselves permanently in the lining of the lungs, weakening the immune system until mesothelioma appears, decades later. At 36 years of age, how did I get this?
When I was younger, one of my favorite pastimes was to wear my dad’s construction jacket when I needed to go about my chores in the bitter cold of South Dakota. Unbeknownst to me, this jacket was covered in white drywall dust from his construction job. How could this be? Every time I wore this jacket, I was breathing in more asbestos.
Eight years ago, when I was 36 years of age, I received the horrible news that I had pleural mesothelioma. Three months after giving birth to my daughter Lily, I dealt with rapid weight loss, chronic fatigue, and a strange heaviness in my chest. After numerous doctor visits and tests, I was told I had 15 months to live if I didn’t do anything. I refused not to do anything. That is not how I live. I would not let a diagnosis of a cancer stop me from enjoying future birthdays, holidays, graduations and the chance to see my daughter fall in love someday.
I was absolutely terrified and had so many thoughts running through my head but I would not allow Lily to grow up without a mother. My doctor referred me to Dr. Sugarbaker at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston where I would undergo an 8-hour surgery called an extrapleural pneumonectomy. On February 2, 2005, I had my left lung, the left half of my diaphragm and the lining of my heart removed.
Today, my mission is to help others by spreading awareness of this terrible disease in hopes that one day I can prevent this from happening to someone else. My faith has always been the thing that gets me through. All I have to do is think of all the amazing things that have transpired and all the incredible people I’ve met through my journey. I thank God each and every day for all I have. Do I know how long I’ll be around? No, none of us do. But while I’m here, I want to be what God has put me here to do and that is to be a beacon of hope. I am, after all, a lighthouse.
I am Heather Von St. James, an eight-year
mesothelioma cancer survivor.
Asbestos Awareness Week is April 1-7th and I hope others will join me in spreading awareness by being a Voice for the Victims.
From awareness grows hope…Each voice could save a life!
Thank you to Heather and her family for sharing their inspiring story and for helping to raise awareness about mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Week.
You can find Heather on Facebook, Twitter @heathervsj, or through The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance . You can support Heather by sharing her video, and her blog. And if you would like, you can donate money to her fundraising page for The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.
If you would like share this message on your social media sites please use the tag In honor of #Asbestos Awareness Week, I am giving my voice to the victims.
From awareness grows hope. Each voice could save a life.
See you tomorrow for this weekend's