Guest Post: My Village is My Family

On this Friday before Mother’s Day, I’m pleased to feature a wonderful guest post by Heather Von St. James, a young mom who has faced down a devastating illness with the help of her family. As a mother and a grandmother, it particularly touches my heart. Read on, and you’ll understand why. And I bet you’ll start thinking about your own family village in an more profound way.

The phrase “it takes a village” is a saying that is thrown around when you have a baby and it’s one that I found to be true. My daughter entered the world on August 4, 2005. My pregnancy was normal and I was fortunate to not have to deal with any serious complications until the end when we found out Lily was frank breech and I would need an emergency C-section. After that, everything was fine! We were immediately surrounded by our “village” that was comprised of both of our families and the wide circle of friends who came to meet Lily. Life was truly amazing and I felt we were blessed. A storm was on the horizon and nothing could prepare us for what was about to come. I returned to work and within a month I started to feel tired and had little energy to function. I thought this could all be attributed to my new duties of being a mom and heading back to work. I went to my physician for a series of tests. On November 21, 2005, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. This is a type of cancer found in the lining of the lung, and is caused by being exposed to asbestos.

When I first got the news, all I could think about was my precious Lily. My prognosis was grim and I had only 15 months to live without treatment. After looking at my husband and child, I knew that I had to do whatever it took to save my life. My husband and I immediately flew out to Boston, and I underwent extrapleural pneumenectomy surgery. The surgery required that I have my left lung removed. I was to go through chemotherapy and radiation treatment afterwards. All of this was very overwhelming.

We could not have gotten through any of this without our village. It’s funny to see who stays around and gives you all of their support and others who are the first to flee. The people that decided to stay were a strong support system, and we couldn’t have gone on without their help.

While we were in Boston, Lily stayed with my parents. They were not only her grandparents, but they were also in charge of raising her. They had their own village that offered their support. This consisted of girls I used to babysit for when I was a teenager. They were now married, had families of their own and were ready to pitch in and help watch Lily. While we were out in Boston, we made new friends who were going through the same traumatic experiences.

Back at my childhood home, my darling Lily was learning the basics. Each of these events I was blessed to witness through pictures that my mom emailed to me. The nurses would sing her praises with me every time a new batch of photo’s arrived. Lily was the reason I was fighting for my life and she was in the best hands possible.  Even though there may be time between visits, the bond that my parents and Lily share is unbreakable.