Would you please introduce yourself for our readers and tell us a little about your story?
My name is Heather Von St James. When I was 36, just 3 1/2 months after thee birth of my only child, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural Mesothelioma. It is a disease almost always caused by asbestos exposure. After exposure there is a 10-50 year latency period before developing the disease. I was exposed second hand through my dad’s work clothes. He worked construction while I was growing up and most of what he did was demolition and drywall clean up. I found out I had cancer on November 21st, 2005, after a number of odd symptoms that could have been explained away as postpartum symptoms, but thanks to a doctor who wouldn’t give up, we found the cause.
You were diagnosed with mesothelioma right after having your daughter. What was that part of your life like and how did it shape your outlook?
It was all at once the best time of my life and the worst. On one hand, we had this new, sweet little girl who we wanted more than anything. We were just getting into the swing of things with a newborn when the cancer diagnosis came along. My future as I had pictured it was wiped out in three words, “You have cancer.” I knew above all, I needed to survive to raise my daughter. She needed her mommy. She became my reason to fight, my reason to beat it, and as the years progress, she’s joined me in the fight. She’s part of my advocacy.
At what point in your long road of recovery did you decide to become an advocate?
The funny thing is, it started while I was in the hospital. The social worker for the mesothelioma program often called on me to talk to other patients and their families, while I was STILL recovering from surgery! It was always part of my follow up visits to Boston. Only when I met Linda Reinstein from The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, did I realize what a difference sharing my Story made. She put me on the path I’m on. When The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance approached me about blogging and being a patient advocate for them, I saw the opportunity to help others. Getting involved with asbestos victims rights and helping them through the tough times, is such a passion. I feel like that is what I’m supposed to do with this life I’ve been given back.
Where do you see your efforts taking you in five years?
I hope to be on many more national platforms, getting the word out about mesothelioma. It is so much more than a commercial on TV. Mesothelioma patients are being diagnosed younger and younger, and there is so much more research that needs to be done. I hope to raise more money for that research. Finally, even though my story is far from finished, I would love to write a book!
For more information about mesothelioma, go here, and click here to read Heather’s blog series!
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