Heather Von St. James just turned 50 but the last 14 years have been a whirlwind. When Heather was 36, she got a devastating and very surprising diagnosis: malignant pleural mesothelioma.
She had just given birth to a girl three and a half months ago. Heather remembers the day she was diagnosed. “I was in utter disbelief,” she said. “I was a brand new mom. But I was determined to fight it.”
At the time, she was one of the youngest to be diagnosed in the world.
She thought back to her childhood and recalled spending a lot of time with her dad after he got home from work – a construction job where he dealt with drywall and demolitions.
“I remember my dad would come home from work with a thick white-ish, gray-ish dust all over his jacket,” she said.
Heather would wear his work jacket often to play outside or feed their rabbits.
“My family didn’t have a history of cancer so I’m convinced that’s where I breathed in the asbestos,” she said.
When she was first given the diagnosis, doctors gave her 15 months to live. But Heather needed better answers. She was eventually referred to a specialist, Dr. David Sugarbaker, a renowned mesothelioma surgeon based out of the Boston Brigham and Women’s hospital. (Sugarbaker has since passed away.)
Her treatment consisted of left lung removal, then inter-operative heated chemo, followed by more chemo and radiation.
She still suffers from a lot of health issues, such as chronic pain, numbness, nerve damage and more, but she says she’s living to the best of her ability. She works out frequently, travels, spends time with her family, and speaks out and advocates on behalf of mesothelioma victims. She has even started a life coaching business with an emphasis on anyone who has been diagnosed with any type of cancer.
Heather will be walking and speaking at our Second Annual Mesothelioma Race for Justice 5K on Saturday, September 21st in Vernon Hills.
She said she hopes to help support mesothelioma victims and help them through their journeys for the rest of her life.
“I was one of the lucky ones but I am living proof that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos,” she said.
We are still accepting participants and sponsors for the Second Annual Mesothelioma Race for Justice 5K. For more information, log into https://vogelzanglaw.com/mrfj/