With hope the odds don't matter.
Each year, 3000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is an atypical form of cancer because it has a very long latency period. In other words, the disease often stays hidden in the body for years, frequently even, four or five decades. Signifying the initial asbestos exposure could have been 40-50 years before any symptoms appear. This extended latency period also means that the disease is often not detected until symptoms arise. Often, by then, the cancer has spread. The average prognosis is ten months to live, a mere 300 days.
In August of 2005, Heather Von St. James gave birth to her first child, Lily Rose. Just three months later, in November, Heather was diagnosed with Pleural Mesothelioma. A young mother, only 36, she was given 15 months to live. Fortunately, Heather survived her grim prognosis, and today is a champion for mesothelioma awareness. Heather is lending her inspiring story and her voice to the victims for Mesothelioma Awareness, and she graciously agreed to a short interview. September 26 is the annual observance of Mesothelioma Awareness Day.
Mesothelioma is most often caused by exposure to asbestos. When an individual breathes in asbestos fibers, the fibers travel to the ends of the small air passages to the pleura. It is at the pleura where the damage to the mesothelial cells occurs. If swallowed, the fibers can lead to peritoneal mesothelioma.
Despite the health risks, asbestos use is not banned in the United States. In fact, asbestos containing products are widely used in the construction and automotive industries. According to the American Cancer Society, “people at risk for asbestos exposure in the workplace include some miners, factory workers, insulation manufacturers and installers, railroad and automotive workers, ship builders, gas mask manufacturers, and construction workers. Family members of people exposed to asbestos at work can also have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma because asbestos fibers can be carried home on the clothes of the workers.”
Doctors are unsure why one patient may survive with mesothelioma for years and others succumb to the disease within a year of the initial diagnosis. Some research points to the role of the immune system in helping fight off the disease. Some people, like Heather, just defy all odds.
Q: How has your life changed from when you got your initial diagnosis, just 3 months after giving birth to your first & only child?
A: I went from a workaholic, self-centered, stressed out person, to someone who just doesn't sweat the small stuff anymore. I get to be a stay at home mom, and I get to spend time at my daughter’s school. I get to meet amazing people and I realized we ALL have stories, we all have something we struggle with. It's made me more compassionate, more relaxed, more loving and understanding. I think I'm a better mom too, but I have nothing to compare to!
Q: What would you like to tell someone that has been recently diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma?
A: Find a specialist. Find a doctor who deals specifically with mesothelioma. It is not something every doctor or hospital is equipped to treat but there are specialists all over the country. Yes, you may have to travel, but you are worth it. Also, don’t look at mesothelioma statistics. Everyone is different so don’t let the numbers scare you. Concentrate on you and find the best doctor for you.
Q: What did your experience with beating Pleural Mesothelioma teach you about yourself?
A: I'm a lot stronger than I ever gave myself credit for! I never in a million years would have thought I could beat the odds like that, but when faced with it, that was the only possibility. I'm stronger and a better person for it.
Q: Do you think your eternal optimism helped you be a survivor and not a statistic?
A: Absolutely. I KNOW attitude helps out. The doctors even tell you that. My sense of humor is what gets me through.
Q: Did you use any complementary or alternative therapies over the course of your treatment?
A: I tried a vitamin supplement, but all it did was make me more nauseous. I did do yoga, acupuncture and more complimentary things, but simply walking was one of the best supplemental medicines for me.
Q: Your level of exposure to asbestos could be considered minimal since it was secondhand exposure, is it unusual with someone with such exposure to develop Pleural Mesothelioma?
A: There is NO safe level of exposure to asbestos; one single fiber can make a person sick. Many of the people diagnosed had minimal exposure, yet others had more, yet never got sick. I think the answer is much more complex, but we don't know for certain.
Q: Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known before your diagnosis?
A: When I really honestly think about it, there isn’t. I wouldn't have done it any differently. If I could go back 35 years and not breathe in asbestos maybe, but then I wouldn't have gone on this incredible journey. So again. Nope, I'm good. :)
This year, for maximum exposure, Heather has set a goal of at least 7000 shares on social media of her story, so give a voice to the victims, help raise awareness for mesothelioma, and share Heathers story.