Lung Leavin’ Day

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Heather Von St. James

February 2nd will always be an important and memorable day for Mesothelioma survivor Heather Von St. James and her loved ones. The day is known as Lung Leavin’ Day for them. Heather had her left lung removed 10 years ago after being diagnosed with cancer/Mesothelioma. She and her family celebrate the day every year by writing their fears on glass plates. The family then smashes the plates in a fire.

“Lung Leavin’ Day is about overcoming your fears, Heather said on her web site.” She and her family also use Lung Leavin’ Day to raise monies for Mesothelioma awareness. More than $18,000 has been raised so far. Heather said she became in contact with asbestos/Mesothelioma after wearing her father’s coat from work when she was a child.

According to Cancer.net, around 3,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with this type of cancer every year. More men than women are diagnosed with Mesothelioma. Heather reached out to me because she wants to continue raising awareness for Mesothelioma. Please take a look at this link for more info. on Mesothelioma Heather recently did an interview here on Life of an El Paso Woman. You can take a look at this at her blog here. Check out the interview below:

ME: How would you describe your initial reaction when you found out you had mesothelioma? I had a lot of fear and uncertainty. All I could think of was my little girl Lily. She was just born at the time and needed her mom. My doctor already had a tentative plan in place, all we had to do was give him the go ahead to set it all up. He was incredible. After the initial shock wore off, I would say a quiet determination set in. I was going to beat this. A few months ago, everything was seemingly fine, my life was normal. Then the bottom dropped out of my life. My fighter instinct kicked in.

ME: What were some of your symptoms? The symptoms began after the birth of my daughter. I lost a lot of weight but was breastfeeding, so that burns a lot of calories. I had only gained 5 lbs throughout my pregnancy but my doctor wasn’t concerned because I was a bit on the heavy side. Then the fatigue started and my loss of appetite began. All of these could have been chalked up to postpartum issues. When things got worse and I found out I was anemic, I knew it was more than that. Then I experienced difficulty breathing. It felt like there was a bus parked on my chest. I developed a low grade fever that wouldn’t go away. All of these symptoms individually were not scary but combined I knew something serious was going on.

ME: Who or what helped you get through Mesothelioma the most? In what way? My family played a huge role in helping me through my cancer experience. My husband supported me as much as he could, while still working from a distance at our home in Minnesota. This meant that he didn’t see his newborn Lily for many of her first months of life. Just because one gets sick, doesn’t mean there aren’t bills to pay. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay with my parents after I had my left lung removed in a huge operation. They let me stay there for two months with Lily while I regained my strength to return home. I was not able to care for myself yet, let alone a baby, and without the help of my family it wouldn’t have been possible.

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Lung Leavin’ Day
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Goodbye fears!

ME: Do you think the public is well informed on Mesothelioma? What improvements, if any do you think are needed? There are so many common misconceptions about mesothelioma. It is always thought of as that disease they talk about in those commercials. That is so not what the disease is about. It is not a disease that strikes old men who worked with it. I know people in their teens, and twenties affected with it. The newest exposure risk in present day form is home renovation. If you suspect asbestos is present, please get it tested and have it abated by a trained and licensed abatement company. It is nothing to attempt on your own. Early detection can save lives the way it saved mine, and awareness of the disease is the first step. People need to be more educated about the facts and ways to prevent and detect asbestos in order to kick mesothelioma to the curb.

Me: I would say this was one of the hardest things to go through in life. What has this extremely difficult situation taught you? My life changed in so many ways. The people I’ve met on the journey are amazing, the friendships are on a much more honest level. I have been able to live a much more real and honest life since my diagnosis. It taught me that life is precious, and that our time is limited. So my house isn’t as clean as it “should” be, or the dishes are left in the sink an extra day, but I don’t lose sleep over it. I prefer to use my time doing things that make memories with my family. The small stuff just doesn’t matter much anymore in the big picture. Life is what you make of it, and attitude has a lot to do with that.

Me: Tell us more about your blog. I came up with the idea for my blog series after realizing that I was approaching my 10-year cancer free anniversary. This is a huge deal for me personally, and as a mesothelioma survivor considering most who are diagnosed don’t make it that far. Each “Part” is an essential piece to my story leading up to the big day! I go in detail about my initial fear and shock of being diagnosed, the treatment process and setbacks I experienced being a mother and a wife while I was sick and everything leading up to my decade of surviving.

Me: What’s life like for you now? I still go to frequent check up appointments and work very closely and actively in the community to help spread awareness about the dangers of asbestos and how to prevent developing mesothelioma. I do not want to see another family go through what I had to with mine. I find a sense of joy in doing things like gardening and planting flowers in the spring, volunteering at Lily’s school, playing with my dogs and spending time with my husband who is also my best friend. I participate in fundraising for events like Miles for Meso and Mesothelioma Awareness Day. I think I’ve adjusted to my new “normal” after being almost 10 years cancer free.

Me: What words of advice would you offer to someone who may be afflicted with Mesothelioma? Don’t try to do this on you own. There are so many people who want to help and my best advice is to let them. As a mom, especially a new mom, we like to think we have to be perfect and do it all on our own. Now is not the time. Being a patient and mom is not easy, but letting others help is key. There are so many great support groups too, look for one to be a part of. It makes the battle so much easier knowing other people who have gone through what you have. Nothing will ever be “normal” again, but it will be a new normal, and that new normal is pretty incredible knowing you got a second chance at life.

Me: Anything else you would like to add? I would like to provide my social media (accounts) for anyone who would like to connect and encourage those people to reach out if they’d like! I also have created an interactive page to help me spread the word about my 10-year cancer free anniversary, on a day that was dubbed by my sister as Lung Leavin’ Day. The purpose of this day is to celebrate the conquering of your fears, which I think is so powerful. I would also like to thank you for the opportunity to help get my story out there. 🙂

https://www.facebook.com/HeatherVonStJames

Twitter: @HeatherVSJ

For more info., please click on the link to be directed to Heather’s web site here.

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18 comments

  1. Thank you for this fantastic interview! Heather seems like an amazing positive person. Thank you, Heather, for sharing your story and letting us look behind the scenes of this thoughtest time in your life. 💖

    Liked by 1 person

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