Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Woman Becomes a Warrior...An Inspiring Guest Post...

Today I am stepping out of my usual blog fare to bring you a guest post with the beautiful Heather Von St. James, a courageous mother, wife and survivor of mesothelioma cancer.  

Heather and I connected recently through my blog and I was deeply touched by her story.  My own life has been impacted by cancer, as i'm sure is the case for many of you as well.  I deeply admire Heather.  She fought hard to win her battle against cancer, but she didn't stop there.  In her words to me, "My journey with cancer was a terrifying one and I'd like to turn my pain into purpose and become someone that other people can look to for guidance, inspiration, and hope in situations like my own. "

She is a true warrior.


A Woman Becomes a Warrior

When I was 36 years old; I thought my life was going pretty well. I was a new mom with a beautiful baby daughter, and I was blessed with a great husband and supportive family and friends. I am thankful for that support system, because I never could have guessed how much I would need them.

Before my daughter was even four months old, I found out that I had cancer. My cancer diagnosis completely caught me off-guard and changed my life. My doctor explained that I had malignant pleural mesothelioma, and that this type of cancer was generally caused by asbestos exposure. This heightened my confusion. How in the world had I been exposed to asbestos?

It turns out that I was unknowingly exposed to asbestos during many years of my childhood. My hard-working father spent his days working on construction sites. His main job was stripping and installing drywall. Tragically, these materials contained asbestos. My father was working hard to provide for his family, but he was also wearing clothes home every evening that were contaminated with asbestos dust.

Like most children, I would run to greet my father each night when he walked in the door. I can still remember how dusty and dirty his clothes were when I hugged him. Over time, I received more and more exposure to asbestos. After remaining in my lungs for many years, the exposure finally resulted in malignant pleural mesothelioma.

The Mayo Clinic was only aware of one mesothelioma patient that was as young as I was. I began treatments for mesothelioma at the age of 36. In the past, the faces of mesothelioma were almost always older men who had worked in the trades fields or in the military. I certainly did not fit the typical profile.

However, I eventually discovered that I was not alone. Many older women started being diagnosed with mesothelioma. These were the wives that received secondary asbestos exposure from their husbands each day for many years. As they completed their chores at home and rode in their cars, they were breathing in asbestos dust from their husbands' clothing.

There are also more patients like me. We were unwittingly exposed to asbestos in our home as children. It seems unfair that something that happened many decades ago could now be resulting in cancer, but no one ever said that mesothelioma is fair.

I am sad that more people are receiving a diagnosis of mesothelioma, but I am also very hopeful. There have been some wonderful advances in treatment for mesothelioma, and more patients are able to recover and enjoy a high quality of life.

The mesothelioma community is filled with some of the most wonderful people you could ever hope to meet. We have truly become a family. We laugh together, cry together and work hard every day to advocate for our disease. Mesothelioma is not an easy trial to endure, but we are all stronger because of the battles that we have faced.

If you would like more information about Heather and mesothelioma cancer, I have put a link on my blog list.


  1. I admire you Heather for letting this strengthen you and not the opposite. It is inspiring! I've never heard of this type of cancer before so I will definitely check out the links.

  2. Thank you for having Heather on your blog Vicki and thank you Vicki for sharing. You are courageous and have a huge heart that wants to help others. Sadly we are often unaware of the things in our environment that can effect our health years down the road. Getting the word out about your story will help countless others who have the disease or are watching others walk through it.

  3. The illustration is so moving to me - as is this post - Vicki, thanks for sharing - you and I connected after you met my mom in the town you live in and I ordered something out of your etsy shop for my friends birthday.
    I was diagnosed with stage III melanoma in May of this year, and Im so glad others share their stories of strength and courage.
    I *Love* the symbol of the brave circle...

  4. I admire Heather's strength and voice to share her story~ You are a true Warrior! I am happy you won the battle and can help others. WE do helpe when we share our herstory, not history! Yes, we all are stronger due to our battles~ You are an inspiration~ Thank you Heather for being brave! Thank you Vicki for telling us about Heather :D (((hugs)))

  5. Laura, I had never heard of this type of cancer either. Heather will be pleased that she has made a few more people aware of this disease by telling her story.

    Susie, thanks for your comment. It is so true that we don't always know the impact of our environment. It is so brave of Heather to share her journey like this.

    JJ, of course I remember you and your sweet mom. I'm so sorry to hear about your illness. You are so brave to share that. I will be thinking of you and sending good thoughts your way.

    Ellen, I love that - herstory :) Yes, it really does help others when we share our stories.