We all have interesting stories that make us who we are. I recently came across one woman’s journey that touched me deeply – mostly because my kids have had such a significant impact on my life in so many ways. We all get some inspiration from children. Moms with cancer have an even greater challenge – here is the story of how one child saved her mother from guest blogger Heather Von St. James!
My Cancer Story: How It Felt Being a New Mom
My seven-year-old loves to tell people what happened when they ask about my cancer. She candidly says in her most matter-of-fact voice, “I saved my mommy’s life.” It’s impossible to conceive. How could a baby really save an adult’s life from cancer? Well, for me, it was about believing in the dream that I had to be a mother when times were darkest in the midst of my treatment. I was taken on a journey through the extreme ups and downs, but through it all, I saw that there was a bright day because of my baby girl.
Cameron and I thought about having children at first in our marriage, but we ended up waiting seven years before making the commitment. We wanted to have a lot of things figured out before taking the plunge. I was 35 when we finally decided it was time. I remember finding out later that I was pregnant. It was the most surreal moment. I couldn’t even imagine what was growing inside of me at first. Carrying someone’s life inside of me was an amazing and sometimes uncomfortable experience, but through it all, I just remember feeling excited and ready to embark on a new quest in life. I wanted to be the best mother that I could be.
Heather Von St. James
My pregnancy went very smoothly. It was only on Lily’s birth day that I experienced any trouble. Somehow, Lily was a breech baby. This meant that I couldn’t deliver her the normal way. I had to have an emergency C-section procedure. I didn’t know what was going on at one point, but I figured at least she’ll have a round head. I had to keep my cool. I didn’t want her birth to be stressful, and finally, when she was in my arms, I was completely overjoyed and felt at utter peace. My husband was extremely happy. Together, I knew that we were going to be amazing parents and provide for everything this little bundle of joy needed.
Right after I brought Lily home from the hospital, I wanted to get back to work and start contributing to some of the medical bills that we had to pay off. However, I wasn’t able to. I was exhausted to the point of fatigue each and every day. I felt myself draining even before doing any activities, and I was constantly losing weight, up to seven pounds a week. I had to go see a doctor to see what was wrong. I had bad feelings about all of the tests. It was a long time to wait, but three months later, I received the results.
It was three days before Thanksgiving when I went to the hospital with Cameron. I couldn’t imagine being there with anyone else. I don’t think I would have made it out of the hospital if I had gone alone. He was my rock through the experience. I found myself sitting there, listening to the doctor say that I had malignant pleural mesothelioma and 15 months to live without treatment. I thought this couldn’t be real. I was supposed to be a new mother. I was supposed to have my whole life ahead of me to take care of my baby girl. I wasn’t supposed to be stuck in a hospital on the verge of death. I couldn’t help my thoughts from clouding everything else. While I pretended to listen, I went off into a terrible thought process and completely lost sight of the next part. I had to choose a treatment. That was when Cameron stepped up. He knew that I had to see a specialist in Boston. It was the only mesothelioma program with a high success rate nearest to us, and we were in Minnesota.
The next few months were tricky. I was going to have to make sacrifices to be there for my daughter. It was going to take time, and I didn’t know if I would make it. However, I just kept thinking that I had to be there for her no matter what. If I was going to do this, I had to be there for her each and every day when I was done with treatment. The first thing that I had to get through was a life threatening surgery that would remove one of my lungs and parts of my chest, heart and diaphragm. The cancer had to come out. It was one of the hardest things that I had to do, but even worse, I had to spend months in the hospital for recovery, although I did spend two weeks in an incredible outpatient facility in Boston.
After my surgery, I needed chemotherapy and radiation. It was going to make me better but at the time, I couldn’t help but feeling like it was killing me slowly. Every day was a difficult experience. I was living but I also felt terrible and sick. The only bright spot of my day was thinking of Lily and remembering those dreams I had when I was pregnant, to remember holding her for the first time. I had to stay strong if I was going to survive, and Lily gave me that strength.
If anyone else has found the strength through their children to confront a life-threatening illness, please share your story. Heather, you have touched our hearts and souls… wishing you all good things always.