Monday, May 19, 2014

An Interview With Mesothelioma Survivor Heather Von St. James

Mesothelioma is one of the most aggressive and deadly cancers that there is and, upon diagnosis, most people are given little more than a year to live. There is no known cure for mesothelioma and the future continues to look grim as attention to the disease, as well as research funding, continues to decline. 

Since May is National Cancer Awareness Month, I have decided to help my friend, reader, and mesothelioma survivor, Heather Von St. James, fulfill her personal mission to spread awareness of this rare and preventable disease, by sharing her story on this blog. I hope that, as fellow readers of this blog, you will, not only read, Heather's story, but pass it on and share it with others, which will further help Heather in completing her mission. 

At the age of 36, 3 1/2 months after the birth of her first and only child, Heather Von St. James was diagnosed with mesothelioma and given just 15 months to live. Miraculously, Heather beat the odds and, eight years later, is still here to talk about her experience. 

In an attempt to understand a little bit more about mesothelioma and what Heather has been through, I sent her a few interview questions. Below are the questions I asked and Heather's answers. Following that, highlighted, italicized, and in parenthesis, are any responses I may have had to Heather's interview answers. 

Heather, thank you for being kind enough to do this interview with me. :)

1) Heather, I, personally, had never heard of mesothelioma before you contacted me through my blog and made me aware of it. Can you explain to my readers just what mesothelioma is?

Mesothelioma is cancer of the lining of the organs. The lining is called mesothelium, hence the name mesothelioma. It is almost always caused by asbestos exposure. There are 3 main types. Pleural mesothelioma is the cancer of the lining of the lung, peritoneal is the cancer of the lining of the abdomen and pericardial, which affects the lining of the heart.

(I know from reading Heather's page that it is pleural mesothelioma that she was diagnosed with.)

2) I was born in 1961 and remember asbestos being common in building materials and other products. I remember my mom having an asbestos burner cover, and the house I grew up in was covered in asbestos siding and we had asbestos shingles on our roof. In fact, the house that we live in now is very old, and, in thinking about it, I am 99.9% positive that the shingles that are on our roof right now are asbestos shingles. (Arrghh!) How and when were you exposed to asbestos?

My father worked with it when I was a child. He did demolition and cleanup work and did a bunch of drywall work. Back in the day, drywall mud and spackling had asbestos in it. He would come home from work with his jacket covered in this grayish dust that was literally caked on his coat. I would wear his jacket when I had chores to do outside because I didn't want to get my own dirty, besides wearing my dad's coat was comforting. It felt like wearing a hug. It was most likely the dust from this coat and from his car that I was exposed. 

3) When were you diagnosed with mesothelioma? And what was the prognosis? 

I was diagnosed on November 21, 2005, 1:30 pm. Just 3 1/2 months after my only baby was born. My prognosis was quite grim if I didn't take drastic measures to save my life. 15 months if I did nothing. Not very promising. 

4) What's the story behind your beating the odds? And where do you stand now? Are you cancer-free?

We caught it early, and I had excellent medical care. I saw the worlds leading specialist in the disease, and we threw everything we could at it. Major surgery to remove my left lung, heated chemo during surgery, followed by 4 sessions of chemotherapy and 30 sessions of radiation. We left nothing to chance. I just got back from Boston and a check up. I go every 6 months and everything looked great. No evidence of disease. I take that to mean cancer free. :)

(Yeah! I am so glad to hear that you are cancer free! That's awesome! Praise the Lord!)

5. I was reading on your site that asbestos is still the number one cause of occupational cancer in the United States. How can that be? Didn't they ban the use of asbestos in the 1970's? 

They TRIED, but it was overturned. Asbestos is still imported to the tune of 100,000 tons a year and still used in many industrial and commercial settings. Despite the very well known and documented health hazards, it continues to be used. 

(I had no idea! I've believed all these years that asbestos was done away with years ago. Thank you for bringing this to our attention and making us aware of this fact.)

6. What is the main message that you are trying to get across to people in your quest to make them aware of mesothelioma? And what can my readers do to make a difference?

Awareness is the beginning to getting people talking about and taking action on the disease. I want people to know that mesothelioma is a very real and dangerous condition that strikes all ages, and not just people who worked with asbestos. It strikes young and old alike. Until people stand up and start demanding action, asbestos will continue to be used and people will continue to die needlessly. You can call your government officials and urge them to appropriate money for mesothelioma research as well as ban the use of asbestos. 

(You heard it, Readers! Let's help Heather get the word out by calling our government officials and urging them to appropriate money for mesothelioma research, as well as ban the use of asbestos. Let's call today while it's fresh on our minds. To contact your senators and representatives click HERE.)

7. Heather, I would love to share your video on my blog. May I have your permission to do that?

Please do!!! I would be honored if you would!

(Here is that video now...)



For further information on mesothelioma and it's effects, please, visit the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance by clicking HERE

To learn more about Heather Von St. James and her story, please, visit her blog by clicking HERE

Heather, again, thank you for making me aware of mesothelioma, and for sharing your story with me and my readers. I pray that the Lord continues to bless you with good reports concerning your health, and that your dreams are realized in getting the word out about mesothelioma until a cure is found. My thoughts and prayers will be with you always. 

Until next time...

All My Love,
~Rebecca 

#mesothelioma, #HeatherVonStJames

One Thousand Gifts - #36 - an unexpected supper date with Amanda, #37 - a beautiful hand-made card from someone very special, and #41 blueberry pie warm from the oven

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