Life's A Banquet...

We all make friends at some point in our lives. Some come into our lives for a season so short that we blink and miss the blessing of their presence. Some are so cemented in our lives that we may take for granted the longevity of sharing life's journey with them. Then there are friends that appear in our lives like a ceremony of fireworks at a far away fancy banquet while we're on a quiet stroll around the lake. They pop up bright and randomly out of nowhere, but enamor you with splendor that you are forced to stop and take in their sparkly energy, their colorful sequence and wait with bated breath for each festive display. I have had the blessing of making such a friendship with the beautiful and courageous Heather Von St. James. Doesn't her name alone just make you stop and say "Ooohh...."?

My introduction cannot do her justice to describe just what has defined her in life, what has sustained her character and built her smile but know that once you get to know her and the fibers that weave into her the patches of survivor, beauty, restoration, wife, fighter, mother and advocate you will embrace her quirky sass and feel right at home. Please welcome her to my blog, (which is an honor more than I can express) and allow her to share with you her beautiful family and her story of life lived golden. Enjoy.

My Cancer Story as a Mother - Heather Von St. James

Whenever my daughter talks about my cancer, she tells people something that they can't believe. She says in her most matter-of-fact tone, "I saved my mommy's life." She doesn't even hesitate. It's as easy for her to say as saying she's hungry. That's because it's true. Of course, people have to ask why and I never mind telling the story behind how Lily was my hero through the darkest time in my life.

I waited a long time to get pregnant. My husband Cameron and I didn't want to have a baby right away. We had a lot going on and it wasn't the right time. Well, it finally was the right time. We waited three months before we got the news that I was pregnant. I had a very smooth pregnancy, and I was excited each and every day to be closer to meeting my baby girl. There were so many questions going through my head. I thought about what my mom was like and what I would be like, as well as what she was going to like. I figured out early that I just wanted to be good mom no matter what.

While the pregnancy was really easy, delivery became a little more difficult. Lily was a breech baby, and I needed to have an emergency C-section. At least I knew she would have a round head. I was always looking for the funnier side of things. However, nothing compared to that moment of holding Lily for the first time. She was an amazing little bundle of joy. With her bright eyes and wiggling limbs, she immediately stole my heart. It was a blissful day and something I'll never forget. I never imagined that my happiness could be stolen in another way just a few months later.

About three and a half months later, I received the news that I had malignant pleural mesothelioma. In addition, the doctor also informed me that I only had 15 months to live if I didn't start treatment soon. That was a wake up call after I fell completely silent. I was just numb and unable to really comprehend what was happening. I'm so grateful that Cameron was with me to help figure out treatment options. I knew that I had to have surgery and that we needed a specialist doctor who had a high success rate for mesothelioma survivors. We found a specialist on the East Coast in Boston who was going to save my life.

Being a new mother was difficult but having cancer and also dealing with a newborn became too much. Still, I made myself take care of her as much as I could before I went in for surgery. That following February I went in for major surgery that removed one of my lungs, part of my chest lining, heart lining and diaphragm. I knew that I had to make sacrifices, but I never expected to be away from Lily for so long. I spent over two weeks in the hospital recovering from the surgery before I had some down time until chemotherapy and radiation. I went through it knowing that there was a little girl who needed me to be there for many years. I wasn't going to give up despite everything that I had to go through.

When I look back on everything that I went through with mesothelioma, it was a trial that I had to go through to be a tougher person and mother. I have always looked on the bright side of things. My humor has been the reason that I am able to get through many things, but it was Lily who really pulled me through this dark time. I'll never forget all of the pain but when I thought things were at their worst, I only needed to think of Lily and I was happy. I drew strength from her. Mesothelioma usually takes about 95 percent of the people who are diagnosed, and I had survived. That made me really believe that Lily was the hero of the tale.

I can't forget about those people who were also there for me during this time. My husband was a rock and still is the best man I know. My parents were there for me through it all, offering child care for Lily and giving me a place to recover after major surgery. Friends, family and people we didn't even know reached out to help my family. Today I'm cancer-free and so happy to be the mother of a beautiful and intelligent little girl. So when she says, "I saved my mommy's life," I know exactly what she means and how right she is. I don't think I would have made it without her.

So, now that you've gotten to hear Heather's story and you want to learn more (you know you do), please visit the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance site (it will open in a new window) and share this information plus Heather's story. Also, it's Global Asbestos Awareness Week! There is GREAT information provided on both sites and you know you can take my word for it because I am an information junkie. Once you know better, you do better!

And if you're wondering where that "quirky sass" is I spoke of or if her daughter inherited it...well, just take a look for yourself. One beautiful rockstar family!