It Takes a Village

It was once said that “it takes a village to raise a child.”  I found out how true this statement was after I gave birth to my daughter, Lily, on August 4, 2005.  I learned that I would need that village, and a bit more, to survive what lay ahead of me.

A few months after my daughter was born, I began to feel very tired.  I knew that having my first child and working full-time would be exhausting, but the tiredness I felt was beyond that.  I couldn’t breathe.  My energy was depleted.  I knew something else had to be going on.

Soon after going to the doctor, on November 21, 2005, the culprit of my malaise was found.  The doctor diagnosed me with malignant pleural mesothelioma—a cancer in the lining of the lungs caused by asbestos exposure.  Apparently I had been exposed to asbestos as a child and, 30 years later, it had manifested as mesothelioma cancer.

The prognosis was grim.  If I did nothing, my doctor said I would have 15 months to live.  While the news of my cancer diagnosis was devastating, I worried about my daughter and her future.  I did not want to her to grow up without a mother.  I did not want my husband to have to be a single parent.  Looking at them, I knew I had to do whatever was necessary to save my life.

Because mesothelioma is difficult cancer to treat, it was necessary to take drastic measures.  I found the best mesothelioma doctor in the country, located in Boston, many miles away from my home.  The treatment I received, called extrapleural pneumenectomy, required the removal of my left lung and all of the surrounding tissue, along with 18 days of hospitalization and two months of additional recovery.  After recovering, I needed many months of chemotherapy, radiation, and additional monitoring.  This long process, along with being a first-time mother, was difficult to manage.  Little did I know that I would have a village to support me.

Prior to receiving treatment, my husband and I decided to leave Lily in the care of my mother.  While this was a difficult decision, Lily was showered with love and affection she could not have experienced otherwise.  While my parents transitioned from being grandparents to raising Lily, the love and support they received from people in my hometown in South Dakota was incredible.  Girls that I babysat as a teenager, who have since grown up into young women with their own families, volunteered to babysit Lily when my parents needed to run errands.  People from the church I grew up in lent their help as well.  The village was, quite literally, raising my child.

Meanwhile, in Boston, I was developing a village of my own.  I met and developed friendships with people going through the same thing I did.  My nurses did their best to support me.  This is how my husband and I managed day to day: through the support of others.

I witnessed my little girl’s major events through pictures.  As the nurses went “ooh” and “ahh” over my daughter, I tried not to cry.  My daughter was, after all, the reason I was fighting for my life.  I had to trust that she was in the best hands possible.  And, really, she was.  The village raised my child as I fought through my illness and, perhaps, the village was the best situation for her at that time.

Life is, indeed, funny sometimes.  Things happen for reasons unknown. My diagnosis taught me a lot of lessons and, for that, I am thankful.

If you want to read more about Heather Von St James, you can visit her HERE.

Thanks Heather, for sharing your beautiful story!


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