Thursday, 18 October 2012

Heather's story

Recently I was contacted by Heather Von St James, a 43 year old American woman who, at the age of 36 and just 3 and a half months after giving birth to her daughter Lily was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an insidious (and preventable) cancer which is caused by exposure to asbestos.   To be faced with such a life threatening diagnosis, particularly following the birth of your first child is unimaginable.  Heather, determined to being there for her beautiful little girl, endured her difficult journey with such courage and now 6 and a half years later is cancer free.  Heather is now working on raising an awareness of mesothelioma and  I would like to share her story.

Life Changing News at Age 36

Is there anything in life that changes you more than becoming a parent for the first time? My husband and I were thrilled when we became parents to a perfect little daughter, and our lives were turned upside down in a good way. Amidst all of these changes, I began to notice that I was not feeling well. Our family was about to receive more life changing news.
Three and a half months after the birth of my daughter, I became a cancer patient as well as a new mom. My doctor delivered the sobering news, and he explained that my type of cancer was called malignant pleural mesothelioma. This type of cancer results from exposure to asbestos.

My case was shocking because of my young age. I was 36 when I was diagnosed, and I did not meet the normal criteria of a mesothelioma patient. Most patients received exposure to asbestos in the military or trades fields, and the vast majority of them were older men.

After my diagnosis, I really wanted to find out how I had been exposed to asbestos. I had never worked in the construction industry or been in the military. I discovered that mesothelioma can be caused by secondary exposure to asbestos, and that is what happened to me.

My exposure had actually occurred decades earlier. My dad supported our family by working a variety of construction jobs. He spent most of his days taping, mudding and sanding drywall in a vast array of construction projects. I will never forget how dirty and dusty his clothes were when he came home after a full work day. I did not care that he was dirty. I would run to him as fast as I could and give him a big hug.

Unfortunately, the dust on my dad's clothing did more than get our house dirty. That dust contained millions of tiny asbestos particles. Each day, I was exposed to the asbestos that was housed on my dad's clothing.
Tragically, this did not just happen to me. More and more women and young people are hearing that they, too, have mesothelioma. Most of them are sick because of secondary asbestos exposure. Picture a wife shaking the dust out of her husband's clothes every evening or a child burying her face in her dad's dusty shirt. These seemingly innocent events caused an awful disease.
The Mayo Clinic said they had only heard of one other young patient with mesothelioma at the time that I received my diagnosis. Because of this, I felt very frightened and alone. Now that I am on the other side of mesothelioma, I have the power to share my story with others. I do not want other mesothelioma patients to think that they are alone in their suffering. They need to know that someone else cares and understands. Thankfully, mesothelioma treatments are advancing.
Along with other patients, I am working hard to raise mesothelioma awareness and advocate for further advances in research. My life now has a sense of joy and purpose that I never could have imagined.

Heather and  Lily
Exactly what is mesothelioma?


hello milky said...

Thanks for sharing Heather's story here Jude, what a courageous woman x

Judith said...

Yes Jess, Heather is very courageous. x