The year 2005 was both the best and worst year of Heather Von St. James' life. Her first and only child, Lily, was born. Three and a half short months later, Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer and told she only had 15 months to live if she did not start treatment immediately...
My Daughter Saved My Life...
Anytime you ask my 7-year-old daughter about my cancer, she always says the same thing, "I saved my mommy's life." It's the way she says it, as if it's as simple as saying, "Yeah, I had bacon for breakfast." Some people may not take what she says seriously or understand the amount of truth behind those words. But I'll be the first one to tell you just how right she is. She did save my life.
My husband Cameron and I waited 7 years into our marriage before having kids. We wanted to make sure that we were ready. I was a little nervous that we might have some issues conceiving; I was 35, not a young girl. I had no idea how long it would take to get pregnant, but 3 short months after we made that decision, the news was confirmed. We were having a baby! As any new mother can relate, I was shocked, excited, and nervous all at the same time. I was going to be a mother! It's funny to look back and think about how fast I took up this role of 'mommy'. I wondered things most moms thought about. What kind of mom would I be? A fun mom? A strict mom? A "cool" mom? All I knew was that above anything else, I wanted to be a good mom.
When I think back to the day she was born, I am still stunned by the flood of emotion I felt when I held her for the first time. In that moment, I knew I would give her all of me. She would have a life filled with love, a life that would allow her to be the very best she could be. People tell you about the moments when the small things slip away and you begin to see all that matters. It was in that moment, holding her in my arms, that I finally understood. I never wanted to let her go. I wanted to study her face, take in her scent and protect her from everything bad in this world.
But then I got the news...
When Lily was just 3 1/2 months old, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. It's a rather melodic sounding cancer, but the prognosis is anything but. Most people don't live 2 years beyond diagnosis. It's not exactly what you want to hear when you are still wrapping your head around being a parent for the first time. I had just started learning how to be a new mom, and now I had to figure out being a new mom with a deadly cancer. It wasn't fair.
I had just given birth to the love of my life and instead of planning her whole life; I was now fighting for my own. As any mother would, I made the necessary sacrifices to be there for my Lily through the beginning years. In this case, it meant leaving her with my parents and traveling 1,300 miles away from home for a radical and extremely risky surgery in which my entire left lung was removed. I sacrificed being there for Lily's first sixth months of life. It was the hardest thing I had ever experienced, watching her grow through grainy black and white pictures that were printed off at the hospital's community printer. However, it was this adorable little girl that needed her mommy to live that gave me the courage to face the unknown world of life-threatening surgery, chemo, and radiation.
As a new parent, we get anxious, worried, and excited about the thought of having a baby. Typically, we think of all the things we are about to learn in terms of feeding, nurturing, and teaching our children. What I was not prepared for was how much a little girl with a somber face and big eyes would teach me. She showed me how to fight harder than I thought I could, not only for my sake, but also hers. So yes, she did save my life. She is what makes me want to keep fighting the impossible, keep educating people, and continue bringing hope to others who find themselves in the position I was in.
Was it easy? No.
But was it worth it? Just listen to her laugh some time, and you'll know the answer. Through my fight, I have learned that in order to beat the odds, all you need to have is something worth fighting for.
Is there someone in your life who gave you the will to fight?