I Was Given Just 15 Months to Live…

Heather Von St. James
Heather Von St. James

Hearing Elmo welcomes guest writers are I am thrilled to introduce you to Heather Von St. James. Invisible illness and disability are not aided in remaining invisible. One of the things that helps to raise awareness is for advocates to write about their experiences, and educate others about “little known” diagnosis. Heather shares in an interview, her passion for mesothelioma research and awareness because it is HER story. You can learn more about her personal experience at: http://www.mesothelioma.com/heather/#.U2PU0ihNuSo

If you would like to contact Heather, please see her contact info at her website.

Heather, many people may not even know what mesothelioma is. Can you explain what it is in layman’s terms for us?

Mesothelioma is cancer of the lining of the organs primarily caused by asbestos exposure. There are three main types, Pleural, which is the lining of the lung, peritoneal, which is the lining of the stomach area and pericardial, which is the lining of the heart.

How common is this type of cancer?

It is quite rare… only about 300 people a year in the US get diagnosed with it every year.

What can you share about those early days immediately after diagnosis? What were you thinking and feeling, and what advice can you give those newly diagnosed with this?

The first few weeks were a total blur. I was going from one doctor appointment to another, then from one scan to another, making travel arrangements to get us to Boston to see the specialist, as well as trying to tell everyone in our lives what was going on was almost more than I could deal with. On top of that, I was caring for a newborn. My daughter was just 3 1/2 months old upon diagnosis.

I remember thinking that I just need a plan to beat it. If I could get a plan in place, then it would be ok. The feelings were all over the place; fear, determination, anger, relief that I finally knew what was wrong with me… then finally a state of peace, because I knew that no matter what, this was happening for a reason, and I would do whatever it took to beat it. My advice would be to find a medical team you are comfortable with, and a specialist. Get a page on Caring Bridge to keep friends and loved ones up to date on things going on, so you don’t have to make 1000 phone calls. Surround yourself with your support system. The more people to help you out in your time of need, the better… and let them help you. That is the hardest thing sometimes, is to open up enough to let others help us.

Heather Von St. James and family

What advice can you give friends and family members? What are “good things” to say and do, and what were some of the “not so good things” you heard that were not beneficial to you?

OH boy… there is not enough space to talk about this! The main thing to remember… cancer isn’t contagious. You can’t catch it from the person who is ill.. Your loved one who is sick has not changed, they just have this going on in their life. Don’t desert them… be honest with them, that yes, it scares you, and you are scared for them, but this is about them not YOU. Good things to say are to tell the person you love them. Be mindful of the person who is ill, and be honest with them. Don’t be a Debbie Downer, and be depressed around them, that does no good for anyone. Just be who you always have been. Trust me, they will appreciate that.

HOPE and staying positive are a central theme of your message. Can you explain why this attitude is so important when a diagnosis you may have seems extremely dire and frightening?

Negativity and despair will do nothing for you in your battle. You have to have a victorious mind set, not victim mentality. It’s been clinically proven that a positive attitude does more than just medicine alone. I let myself have down days. It is impossible not to, but just visit that place, don’t live there… when you are done wallowing in self-pity, get up, dust yourself off (figuratively speaking) and move on. No good comes of negativity. It is not always easy, but fighting something so scary is a lot easier to do when you have hope.

Heather Von St. James and daughter

You have a beautiful daughter who was only a newborn when you were diagnosed. How have you discussed your illness with her and what advice can you give someone if they are a parent?

We have never hidden anything from her. It has always just been a part of our life. She knows I have limitations because of my one lung and for the most part is pretty cool about it. I’m very involved with her life at school and take her places to show her that I’m not a victim, and that I try my hardest, even with certain limitations. Handling a situation like this is different for every family, depending on the child, and what they are capable of. I guess you need to do what is right for you and your individual family. What works for us, doesn’t work for everyone. Some people are very private, and the thought of sharing their life with the world is mortifying, while others don’t mind and put it all out there. It is whatever is right for you.

How can we help YOU raise awareness?

Share my story, my blog, my video… tell people asbestos is not banned. Tell them to call their elected officials and ask for money to be appropriated for meso research and to say NO to the FACT Act. Those are just a few… Thank you so very much for helping, it means the world to me.
– Heather Von St. James

 

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