Today’s guest post was written by Heather Von St. James. Heather is a mesothelioma survivor, mother, wife and blogger. You can find Heather blogging at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.
“You have a tumor.” Dr. Flink’s voice reflected the fact that this was not an ordinary diagnosis. Whatever I had was very bad-I could tell by the way he looked at me. My new daughter, Lily, consumed my thoughts while I was trying to grasp the gravity of my diagnosis.
My diagnosis was mesothelioma, a cancerous mass that grows in the lung’s linings. Those who have mesothelioma are often veterans, or elderly’s in the last stages of life when they get their diagnoses. I was 36, a new mother, and now I also had a potentially incurable cancer.
Dr. Flink gave me three levels of best-case scenarios for my future. The first was to avoid treatment and live about 15 months. I didn’t want this option. The second option was to get treatment at the University of Minnesota or perhaps the Mayo Clinic. I could expect to live possibly five years receiving chemotherapy and radiation at one of these facilities. My last option was to see Dr. David Sugarbaker at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. If I was a candidate for surgery, I could live for ten years or more. My husband didn’t hesitate, saying, “Get us to Boston.”
The surgery offers mesothelioma patients their best chance at survival. It is an aggressive and risky procedure known as an extrapleural pneumonectomy. The surgery removes the whole affected lung, part of the diaphragm and the membrane lining of the lungs and heart in addition to removing the tumor. I was a good candidate for a successful surgery given my age and generally good health.
On February 2, 2006, I underwent surgery, and it went well. I was released after 18 days in the hospital. I received five months of adjuvant chemotherapy afterward. This involved four chemotherapy sessions and 30 radiation sessions. Groundhog Day is known in our house as “LungLeavingDay.” I am cancer free almost six years later, and we still remember this day in our family by writing down what we fear on dinner plates and celebrating as we toss them into a bonfire. Cancer taught me to appreciate the things that really matter in life. To me, those things are family, faith, and humor.
I share my story as a means of hope and inspiration for others. As a survivor, it is my duty to turn my pain into purpose and be someone that others can look to in situations like my own. I want my story to help others overcome their fears when faced with any diagnosis, and to realize that giving up is simply not an option.
Read more at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance