Tuesday, January 29, 2013

guest post: a mother's story

Many of you know that my mother died when I was 19.  She was first diagnosed with cancer when I was 11.  During that time, chronic illness became another member of our family.  Because Mom and my stepdad Mark were so frequently gone for treatment and doctor's visits, I developed independence and self-care way beyond my years.  In that way, I am grateful for what cancer did to my family.

I was approached by Heather, a reader who asked if she could share her story.  She struggled with a diagnosis of mesothelioma shortly after her daughter's birth.  I cannot imagine the pain that goes along with such a story.

Find Heather's story below, along with a picture of her beautiful family.  What a blessing that she is here to share it.  Contact me if you would like her email.

A Mother's Story

At some point in just about everyone's life they will find a time when they absolutely need to rely on their family and loved ones to help them through a tough time. Mine came when I was a new mother of my 3 and ½ month old daughter, Lily. When Lily was born, our family and friends surrounded us with love. My husband, Lily and I were so happy in those first few months of her life. We never could have been prepared for the storm that was about to hit.

The storm started to come upon me shortly after I returned to work full time, about 1 month after I gave birth. I noticed that I was losing about 5 to 7 pounds a week and was feeling an extreme lack of energy. Although these feelings are somewhat common to new mothers, I felt that this was unusual enough to warrant a visit to the doctor. This is when I found out the news.

In November I was told that I had a cancer that was in the lining of my lungs. Malignant pleural mesothelioma.  It is almost always associated with being exposed to asbestos. I had apparently been exposed to it when I was just a kid without my knowledge. My father was a construction worker and would often come home with asbestos on his clothing. I would always wear his coat outside to feed our rabbit or just to play. That is how I was exposed to asbestos - and as typical with mesothelioma, no symptoms arrived until decades later.

As any new mother’s would be, my first thoughts after diagnosis were of my sweet Lily. I did not want to even think about leaving her alone to grow up without me.  I was given 15 months to live if I were to forgo treatment. Obviously, that was not enough, and we chose the most drastic treatment option available.

Based on the grim nature of the diagnosis, my husband and I decided we had to fly to Boston to be in the care of one of the best mesothelioma doctors there is. There, I underwent a surgery known as extrapleural pneumonectomy. This involved the removal of my entire left lung. I had to recover for some 18 days in the hospital and then recover an additional 2 more months at home before I could begin radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

While my husband and I were in Boston for my treatment, Lily flew with my mom to her home in South Dakota. My parents immediately had to go from being grandparents to parents of Lily in a matter of days. Luckily, others in the area around them were kind enough to come to their aid. Those I had grown up around were nice enough to come together to help them with babysitting as my  parents both still worked full time.

In Boston, I learned of so many of the firsts in my daughter's life from pictures sent by my parents.  The nurses would crowd around my bed and look at the pictures with me, while I was holding back my tears. I missed my sweet Lily so much, but the love and care that I felt from those around me was certainly very helpful in getting by each day.

The bond between a mother and her daughter is so strong that nothing can break it. I was so happy to know that there were people stepping up to help both myself and my parents.

Seven years later I am so grateful to be here and be cancer free. As a family we still work to embrace life as best as possible. We enjoy each minute together and know just how fragile life can be. Cancer is such a horrible disease to have, but it can bring out many of the great things in life as well.

1 comment:

Hal and Auds said...

God bless you and your beautiful family, Heather! And thank you Emily for letting us read this wonderful story.