Thursday, May 16, 2013

Guest Post by Heather Von St. James: We Beat Cancer Together

Hi Sweethearts,
this blog usually straddles a line between 90's (riot grrrl in particular) nostalgia, diary-type (rants) entries, fiction and poetry, little gestures at visual art, punk ethos, and last but not least, motherhood.  I try not to write too much about motherhood so as not to alienate people who aren't mothers, but of course that's hard since it's quite preoccupying.  One thing that preoccupies me that I don't usually discuss is the way my son is affected by my Marfan's Syndrome.  Anyway, today I'm posting something by a guest writer, Heather Von St. James, about dealing with cancer and motherhood.  It's not quite this blog's usual fare, but it's an empowering and touching story of survival and bravery.
xoxox Robin

We Beat Cancer Together

Even at the young age of seven, my daughter has her response ready anytime someone asks her about cancer, “I saved mommy’s life!” This has become her natural response to the topic; same as if she wanted you to know she was hungry or feeling sick. It’s easy for most people to make light of such a claim from a little girl; however, her response is the god’s honest truth. Anytime she puts it out there, I am always ready to chime in and back her up. I never hesitate to tell people just how right she is- she really did save my life.

Cameron and I decided to wait until about seven years after we got married to really start considering having children. However, by the time we decided I was 35 and worried about my age leading to complications with the pregnancy. Surprisingly, it only took us about three months, and three pregnancy tests to confirm that I was pregnant! We were both extremely excited to hear that we would be having a baby soon. However, as an expecting mother, my own emotions ranged between nervousness, shock and of course, jubilation.  I’d just smile and rub my belly, knowing our bundle of joy would soon be on the way.

I thought about what type of mom I would be but above all else, I knew I wanted to be a great mom. Fortunately, my entire pregnancy went very smoothly. Unfortunately, things got more stressful towards the end; I had to have an emergency C-section at the last moment. But ever the positive person, I thought, “ At least her head will be round!” I was overwhelmed with joy when I finally got to hold her in my arms. As I held my new daughter and thought about our future together, the moment felt so surreal. I really had no idea just how much adversity we would soon be facing.

Less than four months after her birth, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. My doctor said that without immediate treatment, I would have less than two years to live. Thankfully, while I was distraught with this news, Cameron was listening intently to the doctor and figuring out how we would overcome this obstacle together. We went to Boston and met one of the best mesothelioma physicians in the entire world. He removed my left lung, heart lining and diaphragm lining in a serious operation known as an extrapleural pnuemonectomy. The fatality rate for mesothelioma is around 95 percent; it’s staggering to say the least.

I recovered in the hospital for 18 days, and then for two weeks at an outpatient facility. For the next two months, I recovered at my parents before starting chemo and radiation treatment back home in Minnesota. Honestly, it was my daughter Lily, who gave me the courage and strength to endure this storm. I simply did what any parent would do for their child. I knew that my baby girl needed her mother; I survived every day for her. If not for Lily, I would not have been able to beat my cancer.

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