Friday, November 22, 2013

To be thankful for what you have is a gift

Cancer is an enemy. If a human being killed or disfigured as many people as Cancer has, they would be locked away. We would be doing more to get this killer off of the streets. We would make them pay for what they have done to these people - wives, mothers, fathers, husbands, children - and their families.

My grandfather died of pancreatic cancer in his 60s. My grandmother died of lung cancer, two decades later. My step-sister-in-law and my best friend's mother are dealing with breast cancer. Another set of close friends are battling with skin cancer and thyroid cancer. My own mother had skin cancer removed and is doing well. My step-father had his prostate removed due to cancer. The diagnoses never seem to end. I've had high school classmates lose parts of their body and their lives to cancer. A close friend recently lost her 6 year old niece, who battled a rare form of pediatric brain cancer since she was a year old. It seems like no one is untouched and we, unfortunately, are no closer to a cure.

However, there are people out there who have beaten the odds. One such woman, is Heather Von St. James of Roseville, Minnesota. When Heather was 36, mere months after she had given birth to her daughter, she was diagnosed with Pleural Mesothelioma and given a little over a year to live. As if being a first time mother wasn't difficult enough, the joy of this wonderful milestone in life was clouded over with a death sentence. As a mother, myself, who also gave birth to my first child late in life, I can't even imagine facing something like this. Somehow, Heather and her husband found the strength to fight and that fight brought them to Boston's own Brigham and Women's Hospital and Mesothelioma expert, Dr. David Sugarbaker.

Mesothelioma is cancer affecting the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen. It is a very aggressive and brutal form of cancer. Heather ended up losing a lung, a rib, and half a diaphragm, but, today, is alive and well. Her daughter, Lily, is seven years old and thriving. Dr. Sugarbaker didn't just give Heather the gift of a second chance at life, he gave her daughter back her mother, her husband back his wife, a family back their daughter.

It is easy to get caught up in the little things every day. Someone cuts you off in traffic, your boss was in a bad mood, you had a fight over money with your spouse... It is hard to remember that this life is finite. That we have many people in it with us who share our ups and downs, who make us whole. There are people out there whose problems are far worse than our own.

When I learned of Heather, all she asked of me was to share her story to give others hope and to post something that I am thankful for. It takes a lot of courage and a big heart to be so positive and giving after going through so much.

I am thankful for my health, for my family and my friends. I am thankful for the chances and opportunities I have been given in this life. While I have had my share of downs in life, I, too, have found the strength to move forward and keep living, and have been rewarded with a beautiful family of my own, a wonderful place to live, and an amazing support network. My son is the light of my life and I am grateful every minute of every day that he is a happy and healthy child. It is hard to think that one day all of this will be gone. It does make it easier to know that, no matter what, I will always be my son's mother. Hopefully, one day, he will have children of his own and know that joy.

This Thanksgiving, when you think about what you are thankful for, please take time to think of those who may not see tomorrow. When it comes time this season to give to charity, please consider donating to a reputable organization who is helping in the fight against cancer. You do not need to be directly touched by Cancer to have it effect you. Giving even a few extra dollars can help change the world. There are some wonderful organizations out there. Among them:
Additionally, here is a really comprehensive list of wonderful charities who work to help end all types of Cancer - both pediatric and adult.

If you would like to read more about Heather's story, you can find it here.

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