Ten years after Von St. James, new mother to a three-month-old daughter, faced her own mesothelioma diagnosis, she advocates for other patients with the disease.

Heather Von St. James
"I had my whole life ahead of me," Von St. James remembers of the happy summer she spent awaiting her daughter's birth, before her own mesothelioma diagnosis. She suspects that asbestos, clinging to her father's coat from his construction jobs, may have contributed to the disease. Photo courtesy of Heather Von St. James

At 35 years old, I had my whole life ahead of me. I was married to the love of my life, and I was expecting my first child. But in November — just four months later — my whole world was turned upside down. During my childhood, my dad worked in construction. I would give him a big hug when he got home, and I would sometimes borrow his jacket to get the mail or feed my rabbits. Little did we know, his jacket was chock full of asbestos, a building material that can cause many health problems, including a deadly cancer, mesothelioma. When my daughter Lily was three months old, I was experiencing odd symptoms that just wouldn’t go away. I was losing weight very quickly, I was short of breath, and I was so, so tired.

After many doctor appointments and tests, I was finally diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma and given 15 months to live. I had only one option: to undergo a highly invasive surgery that involved the removal of my left lung and a heated chemotherapy treatment so I could live to see my daughter grow up. There was no other option. I had to fight for my life. 10 years later, I am thriving.

I never knew if I would live to see this day, and I am now using my voice to spread awareness of the deadly disease that almost took my life. I am an advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, where I blog, meet other meso warriors, and share my story. I also write on the Huffington Post and connect with hundreds of bloggers worldwide to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos and shed light on the mesothelioma community.
In honor of my 10th year of survival coming up this February, I am planning something huge. I just launched a blog series titled “Beating the Odds, My Decade of Survivorship.” I will be covering a new theme each month, for 10 months, concluding the series on the anniversary of my lung removal in February. I am chronicling the trials and triumphs that I have experienced through the last 10 years. My hope is that I can use my voice for the victims, make a global ban on asbestos, and make more funding for research a priority.

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