Guest Post

‘Guest’ Post: Heather Von St. James

A couple of weeks ago, a woman named Heather Von St. James wrote me an email asking that I post on my blog about her and her malignant pleural mesothelioma diagnosis. I’d heard of the disease and knew it was a nasty cancer caused by exposure to asbestos but I wasn’t sure what I could really say about her or her disease that would be meaningful. So I asked her to write a guest post.

She replied something along the lines that she’d prefer that I write about what I know of her story…which meant I’d have to read and / or watch (the video of) her story.

It’s taken me a few weeks, I won’t lie. I’ve been busy with the holidays and blah blah blah. The truth is that I was a little daunted by the idea of adding my voice to this woman’s incredible story. In my work with Fun Fabulous Fierce, we talk a lot about being bad-asses. We talk about speaking our truths and we talk about achieving our goals. In Heather’s story, you find all of those things…only the stakes are much higher.

About 9 years ago, just before Christmas, and just after the birth of her daughter, Heather was diagnosed with the disease. According to what I learned on her website, she got it because her father worked construction and she used to wear her dad’s jacket when she worked or played outside. His coats were covered in asbestos dust from the sites where he worked.

After feeling crummy for several months after her daughter’s birth, the doctors ruled out all of the lesser possibilities and eventually confirmed she had cancer. She was given 15 months to live.

Her research on the disease brought up only frighteningly grim results – 15 months to live was a constant reminder.

Rather than squander her time thinking about dying, she set to work finding a treatment plan. She found a clinical trial in Boston and flew there to undergo a very delicate (read: risky!) surgery, followed by chemotherapy treatments. Because these procedures were in trials at that time, there wasn’t much solid evidence that it would be successful. She forged ahead none the less and her literal “NEVER SAY DIE” attitude sustained her. She fought like a maniac. Her fearless husband encouraged her along the way by reminding her that their newborn Lily needed her mama.

Heather is a survivor today! Isn’t that the best news you’ve ever heard? I think so! I have chills just typing the words.

Talk about a BAD-ASS! This lady kicked cancer's ass. Yeeeaaaahhhhh!
Talk about a BAD-ASS! This lady kicked cancer’s ass and lived to tell about it. Yeeeaaaahhhhh!

Heather has taken to the airwaves, the conference circuits and the internet to share her story. She’s made herself a resource to share with other mesothelioma patients her story and her hope. She helps patients connect with the resources they’ll need to get treatments and she advocates for research funding for her disease.

I can’t think of anyone more badass than Heather Von St. James. I’m so proud to have been asked to help spread her message. Now please help me spread it even farther!

SHARE SHARE SHARE so Heather can expand her reach and do even more amazing good.

Oh, and do you want to hear it all for yourself? Check her out at www.mesothelioma.com/heather.

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Shocked

Sunday seemed like a normal enough day, except for a few things: 1) I ran half of a half marathon in SF with my sister (2) Northern California finally got a bit of the rain we so desperately need and (3) it was Super Bowl Sunday – a game most Northern Californians only watched for commercials.

It was a super long day for me, starting at 5am to get out to the race. Neither of us was trained up for a half marathon so we knew going in that we would only be doing about half of it. I’m proud to say that we sucked up the weather and ran it. We skipped the finish line but enjoyed the post race food expo!

My family watched the Super Bowl with some good friends and left after the 3rd quarter when it was clear that the Seahawks were going to win.

During the drive home, I checked my Facebook to see what was happening out there and learned some tragic news. A wonderful former colleague of mine, Eric, whom I didn’t know well but respected very deeply, had died of cancer that morning. Eric was quite a guy. French through and through, but so happy in San Francisco with his beautiful French wife. They had 3 children.

Since I learned that news, I’ve been changed. Sadly, my life has been dotted with stories of both close family friends and acquaintances dying of cancer. My mother was an Oncology nurse and my father was a Hospice volunteer. Both nurturers of the sick, my parents taught me a deep sense of empathy. I visited many of their patients. I even brought VHS movies to the hospital to watch with some patients. I was a part of their patients’ lives and grieved each loss along with them.

Sunday night I was so tired I could have slept on a dining room chair. But last night, I couldn’t get Eric out of my mind. I tossed and turned thinking about him, remembering his smiling face. Early this morning, as my husband got up and reached for his glasses, I thought about Eric’s glasses. I thought about the Facebook photos of him I studied last night trying to figure out how the cancer could have possibly chosen him. Eric was different from other people – he smiled all the time, he looked you straight in the eye and his spirit was purely positive. He was so bright, charming and kind. Why? He was my age. His children are my children’s ages…his 3 to my 2. His wife must feel so lost. His children must feel so confused and alone without their daddy.

After having lost my father at 19 (not to cancer), I’ve been in constant fear of losing the people closest to me. Every time I hear the story of someone near me dying or losing their closest loves, I feel cold and terrified. Almost 2 years ago and within 2 weeks of one another, one of my best friends lost her husband in a sailing accident and another friend lost her 4 year old daughter to brain cancer. The world is scary and unpredictable. I can’t control it. I can’t protect my loves from what could come.

I don’t know how to end this post other than to say that I’m sad. I’m sad for Eric and his beautiful family. I’m shocked that he’s gone. It just doesn’t seem possible that the world should lose such a wonderful person so early in life.