IT TAKES A VILLAGE
By Heather Von St James: Most people have heard the saying “it takes a village” at least once in their lives. I can honestly say it is a phrase that rings true in my life. After a relatively easy pregnancy, aside from an emergency C-section, on August 4, 2005, my daughter, Lily, was born. All of our friends and family came to meet Lily and wish us the best of luck. Everything seemed right on track. However, shortly after Lily’s birth, things began to change.
I returned to work full time and everything seemed to start falling apart. I began feeling fatigued and out of breath. While it could have been easy to assume it was due to the new baby, the way I felt did not seem right and I ended up going to the doctor. After several tests, the doctor figured out what was wrong with me.
I was diagnosed with cancer on November 21, 2005. Lily was only 3 ½ months old. The cancer was malignant pleural mesothelioma and was a cancer in the lining of my lung. The cancer was caused by asbestos exposure. When I was a child, I had been exposed to asbestos unknowingly.
After my diagnosis, my initial thoughts had nothing to do with me, but my child. At the diagnosis appointment, I was told I had 15 months to live if I did not do anything.
When I was given the news, I thought about Lily and my husband being left alone. I knew the only option was for us to do whatever we possibly could. Because my prognosis was so dire, my husband and I decided to take the most drastic option given to us. We traveled to Boston where I became a patient under one of the best mesothelioma doctors. While under the doctor’s care, I had a treatment to remove my left lung and all the tissue that surrounded it; it was an extrapleural pneumenectomy. The surgery was on February 2 and I stayed for 18 days in the hospital recovering. I spent a two additional months recovering before I started chemotherapy and then radiation therapy.
If we had not had our “village” of people surrounding us with support, love and constant prayers, we could never have endured what we did. Our loved ones and supporters consisted of people from all aspects of our lives. Friends, family members and people we never expected to support us were there, while people we had expected to help us simply left us to fend for ourselves.
Cancer shows you who truly cares. Either people will be there, or they won’t.
While I was going through treatment in Boston, Lily stayed with my parents. My parents suddenly began raising her. Just like my husband and I had our village of people to help us, my parents had their own village. My parents both had full time jobs and it seemed people from all walks of life came to help them. Girls who I once babysat came to watch Lily. Individuals who I went to church with or grew up with also volunteered their time. During our time in Boston, my husband and I made new friends and people who understood what we were going through because they were also going through it. The compassion, love, and support the people in our lives gave us, is what got us through each day.
As my husband and I stayed in Boston, Lily was learning new things with my parents at my childhood home in South Dakota. She was learning to eat real food, roll around, and even scoot. The only way I could see Lily reach these milestones was through grainy black and white pictures that my mother emailed to us. It was hard to look at the pictures and not cry. Nurses would look at all the new pictures when I got them. Lily was the reason I was fighting so hard. She was the reason I wanted to get through this so bad. I know I put my daughter in the best hands possible. To this day, the bond that my daughter has with my parents remains close, even when visits are not as frequent as they used to be.
Today, we try to embrace life and what life brings us because we know how quickly it can end. We try the best we can and make do with what is given to us. One of my favorite quotes is, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”
Cancer, like most things, brings the bad along with the good. You have to learn to embrace the good and the bad in life. My cancer diagnosis was grim, but we never gave up. Through a grim diagnosis, my husband and I found the support of many people in our lives and also discovered love and compassion from new friends.
As you move through life, never pass up the opportunity to join the village and be a part of someone else's second chance.
Check out more of Heather's journey here.