Surviving Cancer for Lily


I would like to share to you an inspiring story of a brave woman who won the battle with cancer because she was armed with the greatest weapon of all -- her love for Lily.

Courageous Mother, Wife and Survivor of  Mesothelioma

My seven-year-old daughter often amazes people with her views on cancer. While other children her age are blissfully ignorant of cancer, my daughter has a unique perspective. She will announce, in a very automatic and matter-of-fact way, that she saved her mommy’s life. This may seem hard to believe that a child could have saved her mother’s life, but it is absolutely true. 

It all started a few years ago. I was 35, and my husband and I had been married for seven years without having any children. We just weren’t in a rush to start a family and wanted to make sure that we were ready, but Cameron and I had decided that the time was right. I was scared because I was a little older when we started trying, but we were thrilled to discover that we were pregnant after only three months. I was so excited, scared and nervous all at once. I had so many questions about the future, my child and what kind of mother I would be. One thing I knew was that I wanted to be the best mother possible. 

I was blessed with a smooth pregnancy. I joked that I could easily have 10 kids if all of my pregnancies were so easy. The delivery was a little more interesting and exciting. Lily was breech, and I had to undergo an emergency C-section. An eternal optimist, I simply joked that my child would have a perfect, beautiful round head. After she was born and placed in my arms, the emotions were overwhelming. Amazed that she was finally here, all I wanted to do was stare at her and take in all of her perfect little features. I know that I would protect her, teach her and provide her with everything she would ever need. I couldn’t wait to start nurturing, teaching and coaching her. I was filled with love for her, and nothing else mattered when she was in my arms. Those moments were so blissful and peaceful, and I could never have imagined that things would soon change for our family. 

Lily was 3 ½-months-old when we visited the doctor and I was given devastating news. I was a new mother with a beautiful little girl, and yet I was being given only 15 months to live. I had malignant pleural mesothelioma, and there was no hope for recovery without drastic treatment. While I started trying to digest the news and try to grasp with the concept of leaving my family behind, my husband was busy getting the information we needed. He is the one who talked with the doctor about the treatment plan and made important decisions about how we would fight this problem. I thank God that he was there with me that day, and I know that he made the right decision to pursue a radical treatment. It would start with a trip to Boston where they would remove my left lung along with the lining of my heart and diaphragm. The procedure was extreme, but it was my best bet for survival. I would spend 18 days in the hospital recovering and another two weeks in an outpatient facility in Boston. During this time, Lily would stay with my parents in South Dakota. When I was well enough to travel, I would join here there to recover for two months while I built up enough strength to return home for chemotherapy and radiation. 

The thought of leaving my daughter during this time broke my heart. I thought of all the moments I would miss with her, and I knew that those weeks in Boston would seem like an eternity. However, it was an easy decision to make in some ways. I lost a few weeks now to enjoy many years with Lily, or I would be gone before her second birthday. My daughter needed me, and I decided that I would not leave her without doing everything I could to beat the cancer and heal. It was my daughter who gave me the strength to keep moving forward and fight. It was my love for her that helped me make the hard choices and go through the radical treatment. Without her in my life, I don’t believe I would be here today. 

The fact is that mesothelioma is a devastating disease that kills almost 95 percent of all people diagnosed with it. The chances of surviving were never in my favor, but I had a baby girl to fight for. I knew that she would need me as she grew, and I was determined to be there for her. 

The road was never easy, but the rewards have been worth the difficult journey. My daughter may have only been a baby when I was diagnosed, but she saved my life, and I will forever be grateful to her for that.


Heather Von St. James is a seven year mesothelioma cancer survivor and continues to provide unending inspiration to mesothelioma victims around the globe. She carries out her mission to be a beacon of hope for those afflicted with mesothelioma by sharing her story of faith, love and courage both as a keynote speaker at conferences and through social media forums.