How a New Mother Beat Cancer
My 7-year-old daughter has never had cancer, and she barely remembers my battle with the deadly disease. However, she understands with crystal clarity that she saved my life. That may seem like a dramatic statement to make, but it’s the absolute truth. Without her presence, I may not have been able to fight my way through it to share my story today.
My husband Cameron and I were blissfully happy, and we waited 7 years to start a family. We were older, settled and successful, and at 35, I felt like I was ready to become a mother. We decided to start trying to get pregnant, and we were delighted when it happened after only three months. We were so surprised that we took three tests to be sure! That’s when the dreaming really started. Would I be a ‘cool mom,’ or would I be strict and firm? I wondered if I would be like my own parents or blaze a different path. What I knew was that I wanted to be a great mom, and I couldn’t wait for my child to arrive so I could hold her and see her face.
I was fortunate to have an easy pregnancy. My friends were jealous, and there were many jokes made about me having several more just because it was so easy and I really did glow. It got a little bumpy and scary when they told me in the delivery room that Lily was breech, but my spirits remained high as they wheeled me to the surgery room for an emergency C-section. I had faith in my doctors, and I looked on the bright side that my child’s head would be perfectly round since there was no need to travel through the birth canal. When she was born perfectly healthy and safe, I cried when they put her in my arms. She was so beautiful and perfect. I just wanted to hold, love and protect her. The moment was perfect, and I could never imagine that a storm would soon swallow up my entire family.
We marked Lily’s milestones and joyfully celebrated all of them. She was only 3 ½ months old when I went to the doctor and received the devastating news. I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. I heard him saying that I would only survive 15 months without aggressive treatment, and I was unable to respond or even think. He had to be wrong. I had a little baby at home and she needed me. How would she grow up to be a wonderful young woman without a mother to show her? Thankfully, my husband was there and he remained calm and got the information we needed. While I was still reeling and trying to accept the news, he was finding out about treatment options. He made the decision that I would meet with a leading mesothelioma specialist in Boston. There, they would perform surgery to remove my left lung along with the lining of my heart and diaphragm. It would take 18 days in the hospital for me to recover, followed by another two weeks in a nearby outpatient facility. While I was fighting for my life in Boston, Lily would be staying with my parents all the way out in South Dakota. The thought of being so far away from my infant daughter tore at my heart, but I kept reminding myself that I was making the sacrifice for her.
After leaving Boston, I travelled to South Dakota and spent two months with my parents and Lily while I recovered my strength. It was so hard being away from her, and even once I was back with her, I barely had the energy to hold her or play with her. However, it was fortunate that I was with her during this time because she was a constant reminder that I had to fight. I had to stay strong, and I couldn’t give up. As hard as the battle was, I had to win it for her.
Six months after initially receiving the diagnoses, Lily and I returned home to Minnesota where I started radiation and chemotherapy treatments. These were incredibly hard, but Lily was my strength and encouragement. Watching her grow, seeing her start to crawl and then take those first precious steps gave me the strength and courage to keep fighting. When I was finally diagnosed cancer-free, we all celebrated.
Mesothelioma has a 95 percent mortality rate, and the odds are not in anybody’s favor. This deadly disease could easily have claimed my life, but I had something wonderful at home to fight for. I had a precious little girl who needed me. Her entire life was ahead of her, and I was determined to be there with her for as long as possible. This is why I say that my daughter saved my life, and this is why she has such a unique viewpoint on cancer.
Heather's mission is to take her story to those who are in need of support. You can support HER on her mission by visiting her blog at the mesothelioma cancer alliance and follow her on twitter and facebook. She is an inspiration to me to live each day with purpose and joy.
In honor of Heather and Cameron's daughter, Lily, I'm sharing these free lily printables with you.