Real Moms, Real Talk – Heather Von St. James, Mesothelioma Cancer Survivor

When Cameron Von St. James first reached out to me to share his wife’s amazing story, I was immediately moved and inspired.  After being diagnosed with mesothelioma, Heather had one end goal in mind: to survive. As a mother of three young children, I can’t imagine experiencing such a scare. But after hearing Heather’s story, I’m more confident that I would have the same fight in myself. Check out her story below to find out what Lungleavin’ Day is, and how you can get involved from whereever you are.

Christine: Heather, for those that don’t know your story, can you please share a little bit of your background?

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Heather: When I was 36 years old, just 3 1/2 months after having my only child, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma … Up until my diagnosis, I was a salon owner and did hair for a living… I was otherwise healthy and active.. So,the diagnosis was a complete shock. November 21, 2005 was the exact day I was given the diagnosis.. I will never forget that day.

I had a myriad of symptoms, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, dramatic weight loss, anemia…a few of these could have been attributed to the fact that I had just had a baby, and was breast feeding.. It was only after a very scary episode where I passed out did I call my doctor.. I knew something was seriously wrong.

Christine: What stage was your cancer in when you were diagnosed?

Heather: Honestly..I was never given a stage.. Mesothelioma is staged differently by every doctor.  It was contained to my left lung, and I had no lymph node involvement, so in most cases it would be an early stage… I don’t put a lot of stock into “staging”. It can dash hopes all to pieces before treatment plan is even in place.

Christine: What is Lung Leavin’ Day and how do you celebrate each year?

Heather: Lung Leavin’ Day is the anniversary of the removal of my left lung.. My sister named it Lung Leavin’ Day because it is the day my lung left. We celebrate every year by throwing a huge party, with a bonfire… mind you, we live in MN and it is cold here, but the bonfire is an integral part of the celebration.  We all write our fears on a plate with sharpie marker and smash the plates into the fire.. its a way to overcome fears and obstacles that may hold you back in life.. It’s about putting the past behind you, and letting go..People from all over celebrated in their own way with us this year.. I have videos from friends in VA who had their own plate smashing .. it was so cool.

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Heather holding up her plate on Lung Leavin’ Day which reads: “fear has no control of me”.

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Christine: What advice would you like to give to other families who may find themselves facing a similar battle?

Heather: Find a specialist. Find someone who knows what they are doing with your type of cancer. Remember, YOU are the one in charge. So much of a cancer diagnosis feels like you are out of control, and finding a specialist and taking charged of the situation helps take some of the control back. Surround yourself with support. People want to help. Make a list of things people can do for you: clean, laundry, cook, walk your dog… or just visit with you. Let them help you.

Christine: How can people get in contact with you and help support you even after Feb 2nd?

Heather: You can find me on Facebook, my Twitter is @heathervsj, or through The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance . You can support me by sharing my video, and my blog. And if you would like, you can donate money to my fundraising page for The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.

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Thank you to Heather, Cameron and Lily for sharing your story with us.View this inspiring video below. What an inspirational story on love, hope and fighting your fears! 

Photo credit: Kevin Wood Photography & Von St. James family

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