Last week I watched Killing Cancer, a Vice documentary about some of the extraordinary new treatments showing promise in the fight against cancer. It was incredible to see what some of the amazing scientific minds in this world are capable of coming up with and the whole story was very optimistic and uplifting.
Bill walked in on me watching it and had to look away. "I don't know how you can watch stuff like this," he said. "It's so depressing."
"Babe, it's cancer. Not Alzheimer's. Cancer is something that happens to other people. It's not even on my radar..."
The universe must have heard how stupid I sounded because within days it was all up in my face. And once I took off my deeply tinted rose colored glasses, I realized cancer is, indeed, all around me.
At the park a couple days later one of my homeschool mom friends shared the story of her very recent battle (and victory!) against breast cancer. At happy hour with a few ladies the next night I sat with the woman who owns the children's book store in our neighborhood (she was the first person ever to carry my books) and discovered she was going through cancer treatment for the second time this year (first a tumor on her back, now one in her lung).
Once the blinders came off I remembered so many other stories. The hilarious lady I know whose breast cancer came back after a couple years of remission and is currently in the thick of chemotherapy. The two good friends who lost their moms to cancer last year (one had battled breast cancer for YEARS; one had more recently been diagnosed with lung cancer). My aunt who overcame Lymphoma after spending so much of my childhood sick and fighting. My other aunt who kicked breast cancer to the curb with with such style and grace I couldn't help but wonder if it was really all that bad.
In this midst of all this, I received an email from a Mesothelioma survivor who asked if I would help share her story for Asbestos Awareness Week.
Yes. Yes I would.
Heather Von St. James was diagnosed with Mesothelioma when her daughter Lily was just three months old. Imagine being a first time mother, smack in the middle of the fourth trimester, and having a bomb like that dropped in your lap.
15 months to live.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure that occurs in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, and heart. Every year, 3,000 people are diagnosed with this aggressive disease. Of those, only a small percentage will live to celebrate 5 years of survival. Most will lose the fight within a year.
Heather never worked with asbestos but was exposed to enough of it as a child to become ill decades later. Her father worked in construction and she loved to wear his dusty work coat when she played outside. It was only after her diagnosis that she realized the dust she spent so much time playing in was actually asbestos.
At the age of 36 she was diagnosed with Pleural Mesothelioma and decided to undergo a drastic surgical procedure to remove the affected lung, the lining of her chest (pleura), portions of the covering of her heart (pericardium), and her diaphragm. The surgery was a success and nine years later she is a beacon of hope for those diagnosed with Mesothelioma and a wonderfully positive force of good.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Heather, and for reminding me that there's nothing wrong with rose colored glasses as long as they're paired with a healthy dose of awareness. Cancer is here, there and everywhere. But so often it doesn't have to be. At least a third of diagnosed cases are fully preventable. FULLY PREVENTABLE! That's why awareness is so important. If you know the risks - exposure to asbestos and other known carcinogens, tobacco use, unhealthy diet and lifestyle - you can significantly decrease your chance of getting cancer.
Please take a moment to share Heather's story and inform yourself on the potential risk factors in your life. From awareness grows hope.