Mesothelioma Cancer: A Survivor’s Story

Back in November, I wrote a blog post about keeping your lungs healthy. I touched on mesothelioma cancer, but I think it deserves much more attention. In fact, writing that blog post was the first time I had ever even heard of this specific disease. I bet many of you are in the same boat.

I find myself extremely inspired by all sorts of personal stories, but especially from cancer survivors. I am willing to bet we all know at least one or two family members or friends who have battled or are battling some form of cancer. It is my honor to share with you an interview with Heather Von St. James, a mesothelioma cancer survivor. Hopefully her story will inspire you as it did me!

10years

Let’s dig in!

  • Can you tell us a little about your story? I’m Heather Von St. James. I’m a mother, a wife, and before my mesothelioma diagnosis I was a stylist and business owner. In 2005, I was diagnosed with a rare but preventable cancer called mesothelioma. I had just given birth to my baby girl Lily and was told I only had 15 months to live. I got sick from wearing my father’s work jacket around the house. As a girl I loved wearing his coat and I had no idea that I was exposing myself to the toxin asbestos, which were in the fibers of his coat. My husband Cam and I quickly found ourselves in Boston with Dr. David Sugarbaker, who told me I was a candidate for a risky but potentially life saving surgery that would involve the removal of my left lung. On February 2, 2006, I underwent this surgery and spent 18 days recovering in the hospital. After a month or so, I went back to my parents house in Boston and in the following weeks received 4 rounds of chemo and 30 sessions of radiation. Cam stayed home in Minnesota to work while most of this was going on. It was extremely difficult but I would not be here today had I not gotten the treatment and support that I did.
  • As a new mother, how did you react to hearing you had the “C” word? I was full of fear and uncertainty filled my head. What would happen to my newborn, Lily? How would my husband go on without his wife? What would happen to our house and the life we had worked so hard to build? Lily needed her mommy and Cam his wife. Dr. Sugarbaker was incredibly helpful in easing this initial shock. After that, I’d say my determination kicked in. I was going to beat this; I had to. It was all quite surreal. Months ago everything was fine, but then this happened. My fighter instincts were ignited and I knew I had to do anything and everything to push through this.
  • What helped you get through your cancer experience? The support from everyone around me made a huge difference in my life once I was going through my cancer experience. As a new mom, you have to dismiss the idea that you have to do everything on your own. My parents took me in and let Lily and I live with them while I was recovering. I was motivated by my husband, who was able to keep it together from miles away while still working to support our family. He really only saw Lily for about 36 hours during the first three months of her life, because he had to be back in Minnesota working. There are also tons of support groups that can help make the fight against cancer easier. I acknowledge that I won’t go back to that “normal” feeling again, but I’ve adapted to a new normal that is pretty astounding.
  • Where do you find your inspiration as a 10 year survivor of a rare cancer? Other patients inspire me to no end. I’ve gotten involved in a few different organizations and meeting with people from all walks of life who have beat seemingly impossible odds are such a source of inspiration. My childhood friend’s son was given four months to live after being diagnosed with cancer at only 18 months old, and he just started college this year! He is just one of many people whose journey inspire me.
  • What does the future look like for you? I hope to inspire in the way that I’ve been inspired. I want to prove that with hope, the odds don’t matter. A positive attitude is key in overcoming adversity and if people can look at my story and think, “if she did it, I can too,” then I’ve successfully accomplished what I want to. I want to spread awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure, a material that is still not banned, and how mesothelioma is a man-made illness. To me, being a survivor means helping others who are facing similar challenges as I do.

Cam_Lil_HVSJ Family

What an inspiring story! I have goosebumps that will probably last for days. Thank you, Heather, for sharing your story with us!

How to Burn an Extra 100 Calories

burn 100 calories

Want to burn an additional 100 calories today?

Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT into counting calories eaten or calories burned on a daily basis in a restrictive way. But, I do like to find ways to move a little more or get a little bit healthier so I LOVE the “Fun ways to burn an additional 100 calories” visual above.

Do any of the above activities strike your fancy? I have definitely had my share of quick shopping trips to get a little more steps in on my Fitbit. I love doing a walk (window shop, anyone?) before actually going into the stores.

How do I burn an extra 100 calories? Currently, by breastfeeding my baby. 😉 But soon, I will slowly make my way back to regularly working out and adding in the extra “burns” here and there. One of my favorite ways to get an extra 100 calories or so burned is to participate in a monthly challenge (you know, the Pinterest-worthy ones that focus on squats, planks, or the like). A co-worker and I challenged each other to a month of doing 100 each of 3 exercises that worked upper body, lower body, and then core. We could choose the actual moves. I liked being able to switch things up a bit!

So now tell me, how do you like to get an extra calorie burn throughout the day? And if you had to choose one or two of the activities in the graphic above to try one day next week, which would you choose?

Side note, I also have to say after looking at the graphic I visited Chobani’s website and noticed a recipe I SO WANT TO TRY. The Pina Colada smoothie… yum! I can do anything Pina Colada…. just sayin’.

Happy Wednesday, y’all!

Chobani has a Simply 100 line and are encouraging people to live a healthier life. I did not receive anything for doing this post. I just LOVED the theme and idea so decided to participate.

Baby Love

So I had a baby…

On February 13th, my life changed forever. I had a baby boy and am SO IN LOVE! Being a mommy is so special to me, in ways I could not have imagined until now.

After 4 weeks, I finally feel somewhat adjusted and like I have a rhythm down. The first few weeks of having a newborn are TOUGH. I felt like I did not know what to do at times and add in sleep deprivation, you really feel like a crazy person.

One of the many things I have learned in the past 4 weeks is how to give more. I know, giving is something anyone can do and is not all that unique to raising a child. However, I am a very independent person. My husband is too. A baby, though, needs your attention at ALL times. Sometimes the constant giving is overwhelming, but most of the time giving breeds connection. It allows me to bond with my child and cherish every tiny, precious moment I can.

On a lighter note, here are some other quick tid-bits I have observed the past 4 weeks…

  • Baby fake out sneezes are the BEST. I seriously want to capture it on video if I can, but I never know when he is going to sneeze and then give a fake out (him saying “ugh” after a real sneeze).
  • Babies can fart and burp SO LOUD. And sometimes I can’t help but laugh.
  • Breastfeeding is not all that easy. I didn’t really think it would be, but I rarely hear about women having a hard time with it so this caught me by surprise. Oh the flaws of social media! And some say breastfeeding is when the mom feels so connected or bonded with baby? Sorry, doesn’t do it for me. I bond with my baby through everything else though.
  • The whole sleep thing got better for me (or perhaps I just got used to it) after 4 weeks. Sleep deprivation is NO JOKE. I can totally understand how some women get plagued with postpartum depression or anxiety.
  • Spitting up is scary for the mom. I thought something was wrong with my baby when he started spitting up A TON. Now I see that most moms have babies that spit up. That made me feel better!
  • I love to smell and kiss my baby’s head… often!
  • Pants, hats, and jackets are silly in this newborn stage. I have a few that will not be worn most likely because with the spitting up issue, I usually change baby 3x per day. Onesies are the easiest to change so he pretty much lives in those.
  • Weight charts are stupid. I got scared that he wasn’t growing like he should because of the damn growth chart. But, he was happy, pooping, peeing, eating, etc. so shouldn’t that count for something?!? And I am happy to report we are gaining weight… I just have a small baby!
  • I was scared of a lot of things the first couple weeks… driving with baby (I didn’t personally drive with baby until week 4), SIDS (because let’s face it, warnings for SIDS are everywhere even though the percentage rate is pretty low), kidnapping (that damn viral FB post about kidnappings at Target and Wal-Mart), etc. I decided to give over my worries to God and focus on loving my baby as much as I can. All that is certain is the NOW. I have to remind myself of that regularly!
  • I am blessed beyond belief for my parents, especially my mom. Experiencing motherhood for the first time gives you an all new appreciation for your own mom.

If you have any children, what did you learn those first few weeks?

Hope everyone is doing well!