I always marvel at how the Universe seems to bring certain people and events into our lives at the right time. I don’t know if you have ever experienced such things. but in recent years, I’ve noticed that monumental upheavals in my life often seem to be accompanied by gentle but obvious tugs in one direction or another. Maybe it’s always been this way and I’m just now able to recognize it for what it is. Regardless, I find it at once mysterious and comforting.

The latest incident occurred a few weeks ago. Almost immediately after my last blog post, I received a message from a stranger. Her name was Heather and she had a story to tell; a story she asked me to share with you. Now, she and I both know that mine is a blog about photography, so you – my lovely audience – may or may not have interest in this message. But given recent events in my life, I believe I’m being given a firm nudge to share it with you. After all, who am I to question the Universe? So, without further ado…


My Mesothelioma Story – by Heather Von St. James

I never knew how much I needed other people until the day my world was shaken up forever. My daughter was born on August 4th, 2005, and then I was diagnosed with cancer about 3 ½ months after that. Nothing could have prepared me for the shock, but even before the diagnosis came, I could tell that something was wrong. I was losing weight very rapidly, I was always tired and I had no energy at all. This was normal for a new mom, but I could tell that something wasn’t right.

Less than four months after my darling Lily came home from the hospital, I received the diagnosis of mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. This cancer attacked the lungs and now I was finally beginning to show symptoms. This was a terrifying moment for me and my husband, but after the shock cleared up, all I knew was that I had to do everything I could to keep on being there for my baby and my husband.

With such a grim prognosis, we decided to opt for the most drastic thing we could. We found one of the best mesothelioma doctors in the country and we flew to Boston. On February 2nd of 2006, I had my left lung removed in a procedure called an extrapleural pneumonectomy. After 18 days of recovery in the hospital and another 2 months of recovery at home, I started to undergo chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

During this time, Lily stayed with my parents in my childhood home of South Dakota. Though both my parents worked, they were helped by a veritable army of aids in the form of their church and people who had known me since I was a child. The support and love I felt during that time was enormous, and even when I was scared out of my wits at everything that was going on, I felt like I was in good hands and that Lily was too.

Despite the miles that separate us and the months that pass between visits, there is a lot of love that stretches between my parents and me. They have an especially deep bond with Lily. As a family we have come through a very dark time, and though discovering and treating my cancer was frightening, it also taught me a great deal about how to embrace life and everything that goes with it. This is a lesson I will always carry with me.

Heather Von St. James - Mesothelioma


Very few lives today are untouched by cancer. Most of us know someone who has fought that battle, are fighting it, or perhaps we have experienced it ourselves. Whatever your story, I hope that you find courage and strength in Heather’s message. Like the rest of us, she is living life one day at a time. Her experiences, though, have given her a deeper appreciation for each moment she is given. I think that’s the ultimate message she is trying to share – don’t take a minute for granted and live life as if there is no tomorrow. Love and be loved. Be kind. Give all that you have each and every day. Leave no room for regrets.

Heather is a featured author on the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog. Click here to follow her inspiring story, and those of others like her.