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Tuscaloosa,, Alabama, United States
"For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." Romans 8:14-17

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"Motherhood is a Great Reason to Fight Cancer"

I'm pleased to be able to have a "feature author" on my blog!  Heather Von St. James is a seven year Mesothelioma Cancer SURVIVOR!  Her story is one that brings hope to those of us with very aggressive cancers!  Please read her story below and if you want to learn more about her, please visit her BLOG at www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/heather/


Motherhood is a Great Reason to Fight Cancer
A gut-wrenching situation like cancer can really change your life. I was 36 when it happened to me. I never expected that the high point and the low point in my life could occur at almost the same time. I went from pure joy to deep sadness very quickly. The happiest day was August 4, 2005, when my daughter Lily was brought into the world. It was an absolutely amazing moment for me, my husband and our whole family. Unfortunately the bliss faded really quickly.

I returned to work one month after Lily was born. The work routine left me feeling exhausted. I was tired all the time, and I was losing around five and seven pounds each week. Caring for an infant daughter and working a full-time job took a toll, but I knew that something else was wrong.

It was about 14 weeks after Lily's birth when tests finally came back. We assumed that it was something small, something that could be resolved easily and quickly. Unfortunately, the test results came back a lot more serious than we thought. I had malignant pleural mesothelioma, an extremely rare but deadly type of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs and is linked to asbestos exposure. I had inadvertently been exposed to asbestos as a child. The prognosis was a life expectancy of 15 months if I didn't start treatment.

The diagnosis was crushing. All I could think of was my daughter and how she and my husband would cope without me. My husband and I decided that we had to do everything that we could, and I selected the most aggressive treatment option. We traveled from Minnesota to a Boston cancer clinic to visit one of the top mesothelioma doctors in the nation. While in Boston, on February 2, 2006 I underwent an extrapleural pneumonectomy, an invasive surgical procedure to remove cancerous parts of the lung, diaphragm, chest lining and heart lining. I spent 18 days in the hospital, and it was another two months before I began radiation and chemotherapy.

During my stay in Boston, Lily flew with my mother and stayed at her grandparent's house in South Dakota. I missed some important milestones, including Lily's first bites of solid food, but my parents were there to see it all. Being away from Lily was one of the biggest challenges, but I knew that everything I was doing to fight the cancer was for Lily and so that she would have a mother throughout her life.

As hard as it was, my experience with cancer also brought some good. We are closer than ever as a family, and we all have a deeper appreciation for life. My daughter and my family are the reason that I am here for them today. To make it through, you need to discover what you live for and find the best in every situation.

Surgery 2 Successful!

Surgery 2 went very smoothly.  The anesthesiologist gave me two different anxiety medicines before surgery so I was a little grumpier waking up because I just wanted to go back to sleep, but still I've had very little pain!  I didn't have any heart issues this time, praise God!  The surgeon took the last two drains out and put one new one in.  He re-opened a part of the original incision so I won't have more scars. :0)  He sutured that part closed and took out every other staple on the other parts of the incisions.  I got my pathology reports today...He took 6 Lymph nodes during the surgery.  4 were from Level 1 and 2 were from Level 2.  He didn't want to touch Level 3 because that increases the risk for Lymphedema substantially.  The nodes from Level 1 tested positive for cancer, but the ones from Level 2 tested negative.  This is good news!  Fluid from the breast tissue drains to Level 1 nodes, then Level 2 nodes, then the Level 3 nodes, so since no cancer was found in Level 2 that is a good indicator that the cancer may not have had the chance to spread to other parts of my body.   I'm praying radiation will zap the cancer from the Level 1 nodes and that this nasty disease will not have a chance to spread to any other area!  I found my information about the Levels on THIS SITE.
I'm just hanging out with my Momma and enjoying spending time with her while I recover.  Mostly just watching TV and a little sewing.  I go back to the surgeon on Monday to get my drain removed and the rest of my staples.  I'm not sure when he will clear me to begin radiation, but that will be the next step.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Surgery is over...then again...

The day before surgery, I had one of the most fun days I've had in a really long time!!!  David's food vendor had a food show in the brand new Barons stadium in downtown Birmingham.  We walked around for several hours sampling food (mostly desserts for me!) with David's business partner and his wife.
When we left the stadium, we went to check in to the full service hotel we were staying in for the night!  It was beautiful and the hotel is brand new so the room was immaculate and service was impeccable!  We quickly dressed for dinner to make our reservation at Bottega in Birmingham.  Talk about deliciousness!  It was so fun to get dressed up to go out to eat!  (Thank you again Andy!)


When we walked out of the hotel, there was a limo outside the front door.  I jokingly said, "Hey, look, we have a limo to take us to dinner!"  Then David's business partner and his wife looked at me and said, "Surprise!".  They had rented a limo to take us all to dinner!!!  I can't begin to tell you how blessed we are to be paired with this couple in business and in friendship!  They have been so incredibly supportive to David and I through this and I don't have enough words to say how much I appreciate them!

This is the last picture ever taken of me with my "original girls"! They look pretty good too...wink, wink! LOL!!!  As we were walking back to our room, I commented to David that I felt like I'd been on vacation for the whole day! I was so relaxed and happy!

I didn't sleep all that well that night, but I wasn't really nervous, I was just anxious to get going.  I was as ready as I'd ever be and just didn't want to wait any longer!  We got to the hospital right on time at 5AM!  My mom walked into the registration area right after we did and I was so happy to see her there!  They took David and me back to a little room for me to change and the nurse to ask questions and then they brought my mom in for a few minutes and we all hugged and kissed good bye.  Then they came and rolled me away into the pre-surgery area where they started my IV and I talked with the surgeon and anesthesiologist. I think I was in there maybe 20 minutes.  They gave me something to help me "feel more comfortable" if you know what I mean while I was waiting, so it starts getting a little fuzzy from there.  I remember being rolled to the operating room and scooting over to the operating table.  I laid down they said, "Ok, I'm giving you the good stuff now" and that is the last thing I remember until I woke up in recovery.  The surgery took about 2 1/2 hours.  I was so lucky!!!  I did not experience any nausea from the anesthesia or any pain whatsoever!  I said a little thank you prayer to God for that one!  I did experience some Tachycardia, but I've been experiencing that since they checked my blood pressure before my third dose of Taxotere, so I'm praying that my heart will slow down and smell the roses soon.  Usually the stay in recovery is around 45 minutes, but they liked me so much that they kept me there for about 5 1/2 hours.  I think the anti-anxiety medicine was still working because I was perfectly happy where I was.  I had no idea I'd been in there that long!  They were finally ready to roll me to the room I was supposed to spend the night in...David took a very flattering picture of me in the hallway!  My head got cold in the recovery room so I had asked for a blanket just for my head!  LOL!

Don't you just love how swollen my face is!  I was in zero pain and pain medicine tends to put me in a really good mood!  I look way to happy to be in a hospital bed!

The Oncologist came by to check on us while we were there and give us the run down on how the next steps play out for treatment.  The surgeon came by and I'm proud to say I handled "the unveiling" quite well!  I've been really surprised at how well I've handled it!  I had one little mini breakdown in the shower, but I recovered quickly and I've moved forward!  The surgeon discharged me around 11am and we had a completely uneventful ride home. :)  I had staples and 4 drains.  The drains are, by far, the most irritating part of this recovery.  The ones on the left side have hurt a little here and there, but the ones on the right haven't been much trouble.  They are just burdensome to lug around and you can't really hide them to go somewhere...maybe if you wore a sweatshirt.  The incision areas are completely numb.  The surgeon had come across a couple lymph nodes actually in the breast tissue and he took those, so they were sent along with the other stuff to pathology to be tested.  The good news is that the chemo most definitely worked!  The largest area of cancerous tissue was only 1 1/2 cm!  There were a couple other areas that were about the size of a BB.  The bad news is that the lymph node they tested was about 3 cm (the size of a grape) and tested positive for cancer.  I spoke with the Oncologist and saw the surgeon today.  I have to have surgery again on Friday at 9:30am.  I don't have to stay the night again, but I have to go under general anesthesia again.  The surgeon doesn't think it will delay my total recovery by too long, just a few days maybe.  I have had zero loss of range of motion in my arms since the first surgery, but this surgery will probably limit my mobility in my right arm more and of course now the risk of Lymphedema is high again, whereas before I could still have gotten it from the radiation, but not removing them surgically would have reduced my risk significantly.  Please pray for me and my family. We are taking this all in stride, but I know it's stressful for my family to have to see me have surgery again.  I am praying for my doctors and nurses and, of course, an uncomplicated surgery that will help me to become 100% cancer free one day.  I am also praying that I will not get Lymphedema, but I'm going to talk with a physical therapist as soon as I can to prepare for the possibility.  Lymphedema can occur anywhere from the day after surgery to years after, but once it rears it's ugly head, it's a battle for life.  On the pleasant side of things, my hair is growing back!!!!  I definitely took losing my hair much harder than losing my breasts!  Funny, isn't it!  Anyway, I have long, soft fuzzies now.  It will be quite a while longer before it fills in and I can go without a wig, but I'm so happy that I'm on the road to recovery.  My legs don't hurt nearly as much now!  I'm not even taking "real" pain medicine for the surgery recovery.  Tylenol and Advil cover it.  We have enjoyed not having to stress about what to do for dinner!  Thank to each family that has prepared dinner and to my wonderful co-workers for the gift cards!!!!  I feel so incredibly blessed and loved!  God is still in control.  Even when we are side-swiped by surprises, He isn't!!!!  He knew exactly how this would all play out and He's got it under control! 

Ashlyn has been spending lots of quality time with Daddy! I have also gotten to watch tv with her and help her dress and even throw the ball with her too...but I'm the one taking the pictures so...here's a couple snapshots of the loves of my life!!!!