Heather Von St. James

27 02, 2017

Mesothelioma Cancer – A personal tale

By |2017-02-13T18:26:40-06:00February 27th, 2017|Make Me Think Monday|1 Comment

I first learned about mesothelioma cancer two years ago when Heather Von St. James, a mesothelioma cancer survivor, emailed with a request to share her story as a guest blogger.

If you aren’t familiar with mesothelioma cancer, it’s also known as asbestos cancer. Every year doctors diagnose an estimated 3,000 cases of mesothelioma in the United States because mesothelioma can take from 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure before symptoms appear.

That’s what happened to Virgil Anderson, my guest blogger for today. This is his mesothelioma story.

Virgil Anderson – A Personal Tale of Asbestos and Mesothelioma

You can find a lot of statistics and facts online about the dangers of asbestos and the poor outcomes of being diagnosed with mesothelioma. What I hope to offer is a more personal story that may serve as a warning to others.

Asbestos is not used as often as it once was, but it is still out there in older buildings, in cars, in industrial settings, and other locations. I only hope my story will help protect others from the same fate.

My story begins in my hometown of Williamson, West Virginia. I was born and raised in this small town and my prospects for college or a career were limited. I took the initiative and started working and earning as early as I could.

Starting in high school, I worked in demolition. I helped to tear down old buildings, sometimes with machinery and other times with my bare hands. I did this back-breaking work in a swirl of dust and debris.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that dust contained toxic asbestos fibers and without protection, I was inhaling them.

From demolition I moved on to more skilled and specialized work that was not nearly as physically demanding. I started working with cars. One of my early jobs was removing the hood liners from older cars.

Again, what I didn’t know was that these hood liners had asbestos in them to insulate against heat and protect against fire.

Later, I moved on to working as a mechanic, which included dismantling and replacing brakes and clutches, and you probably guessed it by now: these too contained asbestos.

As happens with many other people who work around asbestos without knowing of the risks, I received my diagnosis of mesothelioma many years later. This terrible type of cancer sits latent in the body, showing no signs and causing no symptoms for decades.

By the time, I knew something was wrong it was too late. I was diagnosed with advanced pleural mesothelioma.

I am over 50 years old and living with symptoms like shortness of breath, a terrible cough, and pain in my chest when I breathe. I can’t move much anymore and although I am not that old, I am severely limited in what I can do. Just getting out of bed is now difficult for me.

My treatment options are limited because of the advance stage of the disease. I am not a good candidate for surgery, but I have been able to receive chemotherapy. It helps, but it is not enough to cure me or to extend my life by much. I need help just doing normal, everyday activities, but I am still glad to be alive.

I am most glad to be alive so that I can share my story with others. If describing what I have been through helps just one person to be screened early for mesothelioma or take steps at work to be protected from asbestos, I feel that I have done some good.

As Virgil says, we share his story to encourage others to be tested and aware of the dangers of mesothelioma.

2 02, 2015

Leavin’ Cancer Fears

By |2015-02-02T06:00:45-06:00February 2nd, 2015|Make Me Think Monday|3 Comments

Recently I met a new friend. Her name is Heather Von St. James, and she’s a mesothelioma cancer survivor. At age 36, just 3 ½ months after giving birth to her first and only daughter, she was given 15 months to live.

Heather’s contact surprised me. Pleasantly surprised me. When readers take the time to comment or email, it means my writing has done its job—resonated with readers. I do love hearing from readers about  my books and here on the blog.

But back to Heather’s email. She asked me to share her story. It’s a touching and inspiring story.

If you aren’t familiar with mesothelioma cancer, it’s also known as asbestos cancer.

Asbestos is a mineral with versatile properties that made it useful for everything from fireproof vests to home and commercial construction prior to 1980. Asbestos was even woven into fabric, and mixed with cement. Asbestos was everywhere.

Not anymore. As useful as it was, asbestos proved to be a known cause of lung cancer. Check here to learn more about asbestos and mesothelioma cancer.

Heather stands as testimony that a diagnosis of asbestos cancer does not have to be a death sentence. You can view her incredible story here

When Heather learned of her diagnosis, she made the tough decision to have her lung removed. Now every year she celebrates Lungleavin Day, the day her lung was removed. She writes her fears on a plate and tosses the plate into a bonfire. The action provides a means to conquer the fear her cancer diagnosis brought. LLD1  ST James Blog

She says, There is something about giving voice to your fears, writing them down, then smashing them in a fire, and seeing the shards of that plate, and those shards of fears in the flames that gives you courage to face up to them and not let them rule your life.

Read all about her Lungleavin’ Day  here at The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.

Today marks Heather’s ninth Lungleaving Day. She has invited us to celebrate with her via an interactive Leavin’ Day website.

So whether you have mesothelioma or some other form of cancer, join me at Lungleaving Day 2015

lld-plate-smashWe’ll write our fear on a cyber plate and toss it into the fire. As Heather says, We break plates. And it works.

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