This past weekend I traveled to Los Angeles, California to attend the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization's international conference, “Asbestos: An International Public Health Crisis”. From March 30 to April 1, I was surrounded by renowned experts and other asbestos victims and survivors like myself. It is an amazing event that brings us together to share our experiences and learn about how we can help spread awareness and education about the disease and learn about new treatment options.
Heather Von St. James
Courageous Mother, Wife and Survivor of Mesothelioma
My surgery was scheduled for Thursday, February 2nd, 2006, at 7:30 a.m. Cameron and I arrived in Boston on the 31st of January to get settled in and get all the pre-op testing done. All of that was scheduled on Feb 1st. It was a whirlwind day.
As I lay in bed, wide awake, my mind reeling from the nights festivities, tears of gratitude rolled down my cheeks. I thought back over the last sixyears and how far we have come. From being alone, just Cams and me in the hospital, to now, a night surrounded by friends and family, all there tocelebrate life.
Lungleavin Day was born out of necessity. It came about as a way to see light in a very dark time in our lives, and as way to conquer the fear that so often accompanies a cancer diagnosis. Below is the story of its origins and what it means to us today.
Our baby's first Christmas, 2005- It was supposed to be memorable, and it was, but for all the wrong reasons. We did everything we usually do; Christmas Eve with my husbands family, but despite the festive air of the season, no one could ignore the dark cloud hanging over us. To this day, when I decorate my Christmas tree and I put the "Baby's First Christmas" ornament on the tree, I do so with a bittersweet feeling.
My entire life I have been accused of being the eternal optimist. It is a trait that has always served me well, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that being an optimist, would play a key part in my very survival. When I was diagnosed with on November 21st, 2005, just 3 months after my baby was born, my initial reaction, of course was shock and fear. But once my options were explained to me, my optimistic outlook kicked in full gear. I was given 3 options. I could do nothing, and live maybe 15 months. Undergo chemotherapy and radiation and hope for up to 5 years. Or, I could have a risky surgery called an extrapleural pneumonectomy and increase my chance of survival to 10 years or more. My husband and I immediately opted for the surgery. Dying was not an option.
It was December 5, 2005, we were on a plane to Boston. We had an appointment set for the following day to see Dr. David Sugarbaker and the International Mesothelioma program team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. We were scheduled to be at the hospital early in the morning for an orientation with the team, followed by a slew of tests in the afternoon.
It was upon attending the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation’s annual Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma back in June, that I first learned of Mesothelioma Awareness Day and the foundation’s plans to descend on New York City in September. As a survivor of the disease myself, the idea intrigued me but I didn’t really think it was going to be realistic for me to go.
I spent the evening making phone calls to family, and friends. My parents live over 600 miles away, and upon hearing the news, made plans to be out here the next day. It’s at least a 10-hour drive, but they needed to be here. I needed them to be here. No matter how old you are, it seems like you always want your mom and dad when you are sick. It was a comfort to know they would be here.
Knowing that something was seriously wrong with me, I called our family physician to help me find an answer to the question that was haunting me; could I really have mesothelioma cancer?
August 4th, 2005, 3:00 a.m. I sat up to get out of bed to walk around after a couple of hours of fitful sleep. We had already gone to the hospital earlier that day thinking THIS IS IT! SHE IS ON HER WAY!! Sadly, my contractions stopped once we got there and we were sent back home. As I stood up from the bed that night, all of the sudden, I felt a "pop" and a "whoosh"! My water broke! This was it! I yelled out to my husband, Cameron to hurry because our baby was coming.