If there’s one thing that my recent experiences have taught me, it’s that it really does “take a village”. While the phrase is definitely thrown around quite a lot, I’ve come to take it to heart. On August 4, 2005, I gave birth to my daughter Lily after a pregnancy, which except for a C-section during delivery, was perfectly normal. Uneventful as it was, however, it was still just as difficult as any other pregnancy. Thankfully, our “village” surrounded us the entire time: my parents, my husband’s family, and our many friends. They had all come to help us during the delivery process and meet our new daughter, and everything was going excellently. However, none of us could've ever seen the tragic events that were to come.
About a month after delivery, I returned to work. A month into working, however, I felt like I had no energy, and was breathless and tired as well. While these are all conditions that are usually attributed to being a new mother, there was something about their nature, which made me skeptical. Being concerned for my health, I called my doctor to see if there was actually something wrong with me. After a series of tests, it turns out I was right: My symptoms weren’t the result of motherhood.
Instead, they had been brought upon by malignant pleural mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma cancer is in the lining, and usually results from exposure to asbestos. It turns out that I had come in contact with asbestos as a child, and it had resulted in a deadly form of cancer 30 years later.
If I didn't seek treatment for mesothelioma, I would have only 15 months to live. The thought of my new daughter and husband having to cope with my death and fend for themselves was enough for me to take the most drastic step possible. Leaving our daughter behind with my parents in South Dakota, my husband and I flew to Boston to seek treatment. I underwent a procedure known as an extrapleural pneumenectomy, where my left lung was removed and I had to recover in the hospital for an additional 18 days. On top of that, I had to undergo both chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which could only be performed after an additional two months of recovery.
While the battle was a difficult one, I walked out completely free of cancer. My fight, however, wasn’t fought alone: Without the love and support of my “village,” there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t be here to tell this story. Our friends and family not only helped us during our time of need, but more importantly, helped raise my daughter with my parents. The only way I could see Lily was through photographs sent by my parents that had to be printed on a community hospital printer. Despite being grainy and colorless, the photographs were what really inspired me to continue fighting: I was fighting not just for myself, but also for my daughter.
What was once cancer has been replaced with a general feeling of thankfulness and an understanding that life is a very fragile thing, which shouldn’t be taken for, granted. Embrace everything that life throws at you, both the good and the bad: The latter can result in a lot of good.
Check out Heather's blog.
Check out Heather's blog.