Heather Von St. James
Courageous Mother, Wife and Survivor of Mesothelioma
Lily started 2nd grade this year-- 2nd grade! She’s a bright and vibrant 7 year old with a stubborn streak a mile long, and sweetness that will melt even the most bitter of hearts. I love going to ‘meet the teacher’ night and seeing how excited she gets when she walks through those doors at school. So confident and filled with hope and wonder-- she loves her school.
I remember when she started kindergarten; it wasn’t quite as easy then. She was nervous, but still excited. I was so happy to see her meet her new kindergarten teacher, find her cubby, and put her school supplies away. I walked with her to the play area where Mrs. T was taking pictures of all the kiddos so the parents could see how much they changed over the year. I watched her look around anxiously as other children milled around with their parents. The really cool thing about her kindergarten room-- it was the very same room her daddy went to kindergarten in 38 years earlier. We live in the house my husband grew up in, so Lily goes to the same school Cameron and his sisters went to.
I looked around at the other parents wondering if I would recognize any of them and noticed many of them had tears in their eyes. I overheard a few of the women saying things like, “I can’t believe my baby is all grown up! I’m so sad she is starting school! I wish I could stop time. She is growing too fast!” I have heard this echoed many times from many parents over that last few years. Although I understand, I don’t feel the same way. Yes, Lily IS growing up fast, but instead of being sad about it? I’m ecstatic! I was given 15 months to live when I was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Lily was 3 1/2 months old at the time. If I had not sought out the radical surgery and treatments I had, I would not have been alive to see her 2nd birthday let alone her first day of kindergarten, first grade, and 2nd grade! I was not supposed to be alive to see Lily grow up and celebrate her 7th birthday or my 43rd birthday for that fact!
These milestones, which some people just take for granted, are ones I celebrate with gusto. We all get older and know that our kids will have many more first days of school and many more firsts of different kind-- first date, first boyfriend, first kiss (although I am hoping those are a LONG way away)-- but I will even celebrate those. So instead of getting choked up about how fast she is growing, or lamenting the fact that I’m getting older, I do quite the opposite. BRING IT ON! I want to grow old. I love those little lines around my eyes and, if I didn’t bleach my hair white, I would even welcome the gray hair I know is there.
It is a very different mindset I have now. After being given a veritable death sentence almost 7 years ago, these memories of firsts are sweet and the milestones that much sweeter. So, the next time your child seems to be growing up too fast or you need to renew your drivers license because 4 years has passed, don’t moan about growing older. Embrace it because the alternative is not that great. Life is grand and being here and present in it is simply wonderful.