Mesothelioma Cancer Survivor Shares How She’s Dealing with the Threat of Coronavirus

Mesothelioma survivor Heather Von St. James on coronavirus

Cancer prepared me well for a pandemic. I know that sounds strange, but isolating myself from people and public places during cold and flu season is nothing new for me. I’ve done this ever since my mesothelioma diagnosis 14 years ago. You know that feeling you have right now? That grief, the fear of not knowing what the future is going to hold? The realization that maybe things will have changed forever? Wondering how, or if, we can recover from this financially? That is what I, and almost every other cancer patient, feels when they are handed their diagnosis.

We face a future of uncertainty. We wonder if any little ache or pain could be the cancer growing. Now we wonder if every cough, fever or stomach issue is a sign we have this virus. Fear permeates every thought, not unlike life with cancer. Until there is a vaccine, we will most likely continue to live this way.

Staying Safe During a Pandemic

As a family, we are taking every precaution to stay safe and healthy. We started isolating ourselves on March 11. As a mesothelioma patient with one lung, I have to be especially careful about my family’s and my safety.

Since the coronavirus is primarily a respiratory one, it could kill me if I were to get it, so I’m not taking any chances.

I live in Minnesota, and our governor shut down schools on March 16. He ordered a “Stay Home MN” order on March 28, in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus. Only time will tell if these measures work. Evidence from other areas is showing it does.

I feel incredibly grateful for so many things through all of this. My husband is able to work from home. My daughter’s school has been set up for e-learning long before it became the norm, so switching over was an easy transition.

We are safe. Everything we need can be delivered or we can do curbside pick-up. I’m thankful to have a roof over my head, a large yard and pets to keep me entertained as well.

Recognizing the Personal Challenges of the Coronavirus

Do I miss my friends? Yes, immensely. I feel bad for my daughter who is not able to see her friends. And, for teenagers, their friends are their life.

I’m so thankful for technology that gives her the ability to virtually hang out with her friends and have classes online. My heart breaks for the class of 2020, as they have lost so much. Their senior year, the culmination of 12 years of school, has been stolen by this virus. No prom, no graduation, no celebration of that accomplishment. The grief is real in the hearts of so many.

That feeling we all have right now—that heavy feeling, that fatigue that plagues you even though you didn’t do anything—that, my friends, is grief. Many people have anger, and that too is a form of grief. We are all grieving the loss of the life we knew or what might have been.

I want you to know that it is ok to grieve that loss. If you need to rest and spend a day binging Netflix or just sleeping the day away, it’s ok. The harder you push that grief down and ignore it, the more it comes back and demands to be seen. Allow yourself the grace to feel this emotion. I learned this valuable lesson early on in my cancer journey.

Social Distancing Protects People With Cancer and Survivors (and the Rest of Us)

So many mesothelioma patients and cancer patients are worried about their care and what’s going to happen with their treatments in light of this virus changing the face of healthcare. I encourage you to keep in touch with your medical team and trust they have your best interests at heart.

It isn’t fun going to appointments alone, but right now, it is what needs to be done for the safety of everyone involved. That is why it’s so important to do as our authorities are asking and practice social distancing.

Use services to deliver groceries or do curbside pick-up. Wear a mask, wash your hands and really be cautious about where you go and who you see. I say this because my life depends on it, and so does yours.

We WILL get through this.

It won’t be easy, it won’t be comfortable, but when we do come out the other side, I hope we, as a people, are kinder and gentler.

I hope we realize it was the very people we take for granted that kept our world going while we were all quarantined. The grocery store workers, the package delivery people, the servers and cooks in restaurants and businesses adapting their ways of doing things just to stay afloat.

I hope we remember the sacrifices our medical staff makes by going to the front lines in hospitals and clinics. Most of all, I hope we all care for one another more when the threat is over.

Be safe, my friends.