Heather-Lily-1Whenever I talk about my cancer, my seven-year-old Lily chimes in with how she saved mommy’s life. It’s completely true, but people are always in disbelief at the idea that a child saved an adult’s life. She also says it in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s like she’s saying she wants lunch or that she’s tired. I always smile and explain the reason why she is completely right. My husband Cameron and I waited for a while before choosing to have kids. We wanted to be ready, and I needed some time before I wanted to have a baby. Finally it became time, and I was ready to take the plunge. Three pregnancy tests later, I was pregnant and on my way to motherhood. I was so excited. Every day, I had a thousand different questions. I didn’t know what kind of mother I wanted to be or who the baby would look like – but even though I was nervous, I was just ecstatic to start becoming a mommy. The pregnancy went very well. In fact, there weren’t any hiccups until it was time for her to come out and meet the world. Lily was a breech baby. I had to have a C-section. It didn’t bother me beyond that terrifying moment, which soon gave way to absolute bliss holding her in my arms. I looked into her angelic face and just swooned. There was something so perfect about that moment that I think I’ll never experience that same feeling again. I didn’t know it, but all of this was in preparation for some truly devastating news. About three and a half months later, I went to the doctor’s office with Cameron. During this time, he was the rock that I needed to get through everything. As we sat together, I learned that I had malignant pleural mesothelioma. It was one of the deadlier types of cancer. I was in total shock. I couldn’t understand how I was going to get through this and do everything I needed to do for Lily. I was supposed to be there for her whole life, until I was very old. Cameron was listening to the doctor as I went into my own panic. I didn’t know what to say when I was faced with treatment options, but Cameron helped me. We needed to see a specialist known for his success with mesothelioma patients in Boston. I was going to need surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. It wasn’t going to be easy. However, I went through with it. I only had 15 months to live according to the doctor. The surgery was life-threatening. I had to have one of my lungs removed in addition to part of my chest lining, heart lining and diaphragm. I spent 18 days in the hospital followed by another two months recovering from the surgery before I began radiation and chemotherapy treatments. I spent those 2 months at my parent’s house in South Dakota, where Lily was being taken care of. As any mother would feel, I knew that what I was really sacrificing was time with my baby girl during her formative months. Was she going to know me when this was over? It was the hardest thing that I had to deal with, but through everything, I remembered that I had to be there for her. She gave me the courage to get through the surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. heather familyWhenever I go back to that period in my life, I think about how the mesothelioma diagnosis changed everything but also that Lily was given to me at a time that couldn’t have been more perfect. If I didn’t have Lily when I did, I wouldn’t have had her giving me the strength I needed through all of the pain and suffering of those moments after treatment. It was a very long time before I started to feel normal again, but eventually I was able to recover and start rebuilding myself. When I held Lily again after treatment, it was like the first time all over again, only it felt like a lifetime since I had seen her last. Most people don’t survive mesothelioma. About 95 percent of people are taken from the cancer. I didn’t know some days whether I was going to make it, but all I had to do was remember the dreams that I had in the beginning of my pregnancy. I knew that Lily was going to need me and that meant pulling through. There were others who helped during this time. My parents were there for me and provided financial assistance when things were extremely tough. Friends and co-workers, even people we didn’t know, who reached out and helped with kind words. Still, the one thing that I always go back to is my reason to push for a better tomorrow. So when Lily says she saved my life, I just have to agree. (This article was originally seen in The Women’s Issue – a digital magazine we create in celebration of Women’s History Month.) Our guest author heatherToday, Heather Von St. James is a seven year mesothelioma cancer survivor and continues to provide unending inspiration to mesothelioma victims around the globe. She carries out her mission to be a beacon of hope for those afflicted with mesothelioma by sharing her story of faith, love and courage both as a keynote speaker at conferences and through social media forums. Click here to read more about her!