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Make Everyday Count it matters and so do you.
Today I want to introduce you to Heather St. James. Heather contacted me after viewing my blog and asked if she could share her story with the readers of A Healthy Life For Me. I was so touched and inspired by her story that I knew you would be as well. Heather is a strong courageous survivor of Mesothelioma and she is sharing her story so that we can learn and make everyday count.
In November 2005, my husband Cameron and I received devastating news that I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, just three short months after giving birth to our beautiful baby girl, Lily. Mesothelioma is a cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure. I was exposed to asbestos as a child through my father’s work clothes. He worked with it at his construction job and unbeknownst to him, brought it home on his clothes. As a little girl, his jacket was my favorite piece of clothing to put on, especially in those cold South Dakota winters. It gave me a feeling of warmth; a feeling that made me feel so close to my Dad.
My symptoms started out as weight loss, right after having Lily in 2005. I started losing 5-7 pounds a week after her birth, but I wrote it off as being a new mom. I was short of breath, and it felt like a truck parked on my chest. After numerous doctor visits, I was told that I had pleural effusion, also known as fluid around my left lung.
I was referred to a world renowned surgeon, Dr. David Sugarbaker in Boston where I underwent a risky surgery called an extrapleural pneumonectomy. This surgery would include the removal of my left lung, half of my diaphragm, and the lining of my heart. I went from being on maternity leave to getting a cancer diagnosis in 3 months. Devastated is an understatement. My newborn baby would be turning 6 months old, just two days after my surgery. I was heartbroken that I would be in recovery and not with her to celebrate this milestone. I spent the first month of recovery in Boston, and then the next two months, I was able to recover in South Dakota with my parents and Lily, while Cameron stayed in Minnesota to work. Finally, after three months of being away, I returned to Minnesota where I underwent chemotherapy and radiation.
Mesothelioma is always thought of as that disease that you see in commercials — that strikes only old men who have worked with it. That is so not what this disease is about. This disease can strike anyone, 10-50 years after exposure and the results are deadly. It kills most people within 18 months of diagnosis. Early detection of the disease can save lives, and awareness is the first step. If you know you’ve been exposed to asbestos, or think you have, tell your doctor so they can point you in the right direction.
There are many ways in which you can prevent yourself from asbestos exposure. The newest exposure risk in present day form is home renovation. If you suspect asbestos is present, please get it tested as soon as possible and have it abated by a trained and licensed abatement company. It is nothing to attempt on your own. The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance has many great resources available and can help provide the most up to date information regarding this disease and prevention tips.
Today, I am an 8 year mesothelioma cancer survivor and spend my days advocating for this preventable disease. I hope, with my story, that I can prevent this from happening to someone else and help with the ban of asbestos one day. From awareness grows hope, and each voice could help save a life!
Heather St. James
Thank you Heather for taking the time to share your story, for being so inspiring and for never giving up! xo Amy