Heather Von St. James
Courageous Mother, Wife and Survivor of Mesothelioma
Finding Courage for Cancer Through Motherhood
If you ask my daughter about my cancer, she will tell you one thing, “I saved my mommy’s life.” She says it in such a nonchalant manner, it is if she is saying “The sky is blue” but she is right, she DID save my life.
My husband and I didn’t rush into parenthood. We waited 7 years into our marriage before trying to get pregnant. I was a little nervous that we might have some issues conceiving; I was 35, not some young virile girl. I had no idea how long it would take to get pregnant, or if I even could. But, we were lucky-- 3 months later, I took the pregnancy test (3 of them actually) just to make sure. They all said the same thing-- I was pregnant! I was going to be a MOTHER! It was funny how almost immediately I started rubbing my belly and thinking of all of the scenarios of having a baby. What would life be like to be a mom and have a baby? What kind of mom would I be? A fun mom? A strict mom? The cool, fashionable mom? I wanted to be the good mom, the one with the kid that behaved. I wanted to be the mom that had the career with the fulfilling family life at home.
When Lily decided to come into the world, she did so on her terms. After finding out she was in the wrong position, we had an emergency c- section. I remembered saying, “At least she will have a round head.” I’m always looking at the bright side of things. When I finally got to hold her, I was unprepared for the amount of emotion that overcame me. All at once, I wanted everything for this little bundle in my arms. I wanted to protect her from anything that might hurt her. I wanted to nurture her to become the best she could be, teach her, coach her, love her like no mom has loved their child before. The whole working mom scenario seemed not so important. I just wanted to spend time with her, spend time getting to know her, study her and memorize every detail about her as she changed before my very eyes. Nothing really mattered anymore, but this little girl who was so dependent on me. She became so much more to me that I ever dreamed a child could.
When the mesothelioma diagnosis came just 3 1/2 short months later, my first thought was Lily. I was supposed to be there to raise her! I was her mommy. I NEEDED to be there. As a mother, we make necessary sacrifices for our children without giving it a second thought. I sacrificed being there for Lily’s 6th month of life, so I could be there for the many years to follow. It was pictures of her, emailed to me while I was in the hospital, that gave me the strength to fight, to get up and move, and heal. It was this adorable little girl that needed her mommy to live that gave me the courage to face the unknown world of life threatening surgery, chemo and radiation. It was, in essence, being a mom that saved my life; so Lily is right when she tells people that she saved my life.
With this year’s Mother’s Day, and every Mother’s Day I’m blessed with, I’m reminded to look back, and reflect on what being a mom is. I’ve ended up being just the type of mom I always wanted to be, one that is here to celebrate Mother’s Day with my little girl, who saved my life.