Having a blog is such a frivolous thing. It’s a place where you write out about the trite thoughts of the day, the deep, the not so much. Either way, it’s all about you. Except it really isn’t.
It can also be a platform to share and do great things, like this. Heather emailed me and asked if she could share her story with you all. Of course I was more than happy to oblige. Cancer doesn’t just happen to the guy down the street, that person you don’t know, older people or smokers. Cancer can happen to anyone, anytime–and chances are that your life and your heart has been touched by someone with cancer.
I’m proud to kick off my official running project, “See Jess Run: Making Cancer History”, with Heather’s story. Over the next six months, I’ll be logging hundreds of miles to raise money for the amazing University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. To help US fight against cancer, you can visit my CrowdRise page to make a donation. MD Anderson is not only a teaching hospital, but a renowned research institute and it provides education and resources to patients.
All donations are tax deductible and go directly to MD Anderson.
A Journey With Cancer As A New Mother — by Heather Von St. James
As soon as I became pregnant, I was ready for everything motherhood could throw at me. There was nothing about my pregnancy that would surprise me. I ate healthy, read all of the mommy-to-be books I could find and saw the best doctors. I was overjoyed as any new mom would be. After my daughter was born, I quickly found that motherhood was even better than I hoped it would be. The instant I held Lily in my arms, she stole my heart.
Sadly, life doesn’t always go the way you planned, as I would learn only 3 ½ months short months later when I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. The biggest blow was that this cancer is extremely aggressive, hard to treat and fatal in most cases. The doctor said that if I declined treatment for the disease, I would only have about 15 months longer to spend with my family. In that moment, I realized that I needed to do everything in my power to beat this disease and be there for my husband and daughter.
It was quickly decided that I would travel to a mesothelioma center in Boston to see a renowned expert in the illness. While I would be receiving the best of care, I would be half a continent away from my infant daughter for the first stages of her life. Rather than watching my daughter grow and develop as I’d dreamed when I was pregnant, I would be in a battle that would hopefully save my life. Throughout that time, I had gotten one of my lungs, my pericardium and the lining of my diaphragm surgically removed. For the rest of Lily’s first year, I was receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
In spite of it all, I knew I was lucky. My mom and dad took Lily to live with them in South Dakota while I got better. That way, she could have some amount of stability and assurance in her life, unlike me. Once I came home, I often played with my daughter, took her to the park, and on the occasions when I felt decent enough, indulged in play dates with other kids. Not having the energy to play with Lily was difficult, but I was grateful for whatever I could get. Little moments here and there are far better than none at all and make me feel like everything I went through was worth it.
It often feels like little has changed in the eight years since Lily’s birth. Our love and pride for her grows more with each day that passes. She is a bright, happy and loving little girl who knows how valuable and fragile life is. She understands what happened all those years ago and that we feel so lucky to have her in our lives. She doesn’t remember that year, but my husband and I will always be able to. It was one full of uncertainty and emotional anguish. At the end of the road, however, we came through with our health and with each other.
Even though my fight with mesothelioma was long and frightening, we were still able to see the good things amongst the bad. These days, we’re closer as a family than we’ve ever been and we’ve learned that there are no guarantees in life. It is my sincerest hope that my story as a first-time mom facing cancer will provide others with the courage to fight. There’s no need to go it alone and with an upbeat attitude and bit of faith, you can get through anything.