Heather Von St. James
Courageous Mother, Wife and Survivor of Mesothelioma
On April 24th, I had my bi-annual check up in Boston with Dr. David Sugarbaker. It’s been 6 1/2 years since my diagnosis. It has been 6 years and 3 months since my subsequent surgery to have the tumor and my lung taken out—wow! I get giddy when I think about it. The few weeks before my appointments I usually suffer from what I call “Scanxiety,” or this anxiousness that comes before the scans to see if “it” came back.
This time, however, it was not that bad. I was a little nervous, but not seriously. I think maybe the main reason was during this trip I was meeting a patient who I had spoken to on the phone a few weeks prior. Bill O’Brian contacted me to discuss his upcoming surgery. It just so happened that his surgery was scheduled for the 11th of April and he would still be in Boston when I was going to be out for my appointment. I had spent about an hour on the phone with him and his wife, telling them what I had been through and what to expect. Something I vowed to do for others, since there was no one to do that for me. In those 60 minutes we bonded. Before we hung up, he said to me, “I just love you!! I really do! You’re family now!!” We made plans to meet when I came to town.
My flight arrived at noon; I dropped my stuff off at the hotel and headed over to the apartment that Bill had rented for the duration of his stay in Boston. He and his daughter were outside waiting for me when I arrived. Even though this was our first time meeting, it felt like we were long lost relatives. He looked amazing despite having had a pleurectomy just 12 days earlier! We spent the afternoon together at the apartment talking over our lives, his diagnosis, his exposure to asbestos, and sharing my story. We had lunch at his apartment and just enjoyed each other’s company. Our get together was good for the both of us. He kept telling me how happy he was that I came by. I told him wild horses could not have kept me away. After a few hours, I knew he was getting tired, so it was time for me to leave. We said our good byes and promised to keep in touch.
My appointment was scheduled for the next morning, so I just went back to the hotel to rest and relax. I am thrilled to say that everything is perfect. No cancer anywhere! Dr. Sugarbaker always greets me with “Hey! There she is!! My favorite patient” when he walks into the exam room. He goes to shake my hand, but I insist on a hug, the man did after all save my life. He complimented me on all I’ve been doing to raise awareness and is so happy with my progress.
After my appointment, I always go to the new patient orientation to speak with people who have recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma and are there for the first time. I know how they feel. I know the fear, the uncertainty, and being overwhelmed with all that lies ahead of each and every one of them. I hope that in some small way, I can alleviate some of that fear and be that glimmer of hope that every person who hears “You’ve got cancer” so desperately needs.
I felt a renewed sense of purpose after this trip to Boston. It makes me want to work harder to raise more awareness for mesothelioma and get more voices of survivors heard. I don’t want to just sit back and do nothing. This is me just getting started.