Though it’s not advocated as much as it should be, National Cancer Survivor Awareness is recognized during the month of June. More specifically, National Cancer Survivor Awareness Day was on June 5th.
We’re usually told stories of loss when it comes to cancer awareness, so, it is touching to when we can hear stories and advocacy straight from those who have fought a personal battle against this disease. If you are a survivor of cancer or know and care about somebody who has survived this awful disease, then you can imagine that their cancer survival is mostly likely celebrated every day.
As many readers of this blog already know, I lost my father to colon cancer in October 2011. I would love nothing more than to be writing today about my dad the survivor rather than my late father, another victim to the nightmare that is cancer. Those of us who survive after the loss of a loved one to cancer move forward to bring awareness and spend time dedicated to preserving memories through advocacy. But what about those who survive cancer personally? Survivors continue to tell their stories and educate others about the disease as they know it. And it is through their stories that we move closer to a genuine human experience of what it means to live with and survive a serious illness.
Heather Von St. James contacted me to share her story of survival. Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma shortly after the birth of her daughter. She, like many others (including my father), was given a less than hopeful prognosis. Heather’s doctor told her that if she did not act on her cancer right away, she would have fifteen months to live. She had a three-month-old daughter the day she heard this news. Can you imagine this?
Mesothelioma is a severe form of cancer associated with asbestos exposure. So you may ask, how did a young woman, three months a new mother, develop this illness? Heather’s illness was most likely the result of years of exposure to asbestos debris attached to her father’s work clothes. Asbestos is a lethal toxic substance that is still legal to use in the United States. In fact, there have been traces of asbestos found in crayons and finger paint kits currently sold in stores throughout the country. It is an absolute outrage to learn that asbestos – the known cause of mesothelioma – is still being utilized and sold to unknowing consumers.
After an aggressive cycle of treatments, Heather was very fortunate to have been given a positive prognosis and a clean bill of health. She has lived ten years cancer-free, despite being given a much less promising initial mesothelioma prognosis. Her struggle with her illness went beyond the treatments and hospital visits, however — it carried on through her battles with PTSD and anxiety as a result of her intensive and extensive treatments.
Heather had a choice to put her illness behind her and move forward, but instead, she decided that she could not let her story go untold. And she could not let the voices of other asbestos victims go unheard. As a result, Heather has been working tirelessly to ban the import and use of asbestos in the United States. She regularly goes to Washington with The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and The Environmental Working Group to tell her story, and she vows to continue to educate, inform, and fight until there is a ban.
Unfortunately, Heather’s story is not typical. Not only is she one of the younger people to be diagnosed with mesothelioma and to receive treatment for her particular form of cancer, but she is one of the minority of individuals who have defied the odds and survived.
When it comes to cancer, often stories are told by people who have lost a loved one. And though the voices of cancer’s indirect victims are harrowing to hear, nothing speaks louder than the voices of survivors themselves.
Heather’s story is uniquely optimistic, and one of many I hope gets told. Her courage and dedication to seeking justice for other individuals and families who have fallen victim to asbestos exposure and mesothelioma are truly admirable.
I hope you will share Heather’s story and help her in her quest for a ban on the use of asbestos as well as spread awareness for those diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Please take the time to acknowledge those in your life who have beaten cancer and continue to tell their stories and enrich our lives.
For more information on Heather, her fight, and her mission, please visit her page on how she beat the odds and continues to fight.
You can also follow Heather Von St. James on social media: