We were honoured when Heather approached us through our blog and asked about sharing her story. After reading what she had endured as a new mother, we of course wanted to share her story in hopes that you are as inspired as we were! Thank you, Heather, for sharing your story and we wish you the best!
When my seven year old daughter is asked about my battle with cancer, her reply is always, “I saved my mommy.” The statement is so natural to her that it sounds as if she’s simply saying that she’s hungry. People don’t usually take her words seriously, nor do they realize how true they are.
Our marriage was seven years old before my husband Cameron and I considered children. At 35, I had my concerns about pregnancy and childbirth due to my age. I didn’t know how long it might take, but a mere three months after we began trying, it was official. A baby was on the way! Naturally, I was pleased, surprised and a little anxious at the same time. I was finally going to be a mommy! When I think back on how quickly I took to my new role, sometimes it’s funny. I constantly rubbed my tummy and felt thrilled with the idea that a sweet little life was developing inside of me. Countless questions whirled in my head. I wondered what kind of parent I’d be. Would I be fun, cool or strict? More than anything, I wanted to be a good parent.
Although I my pregnancy was surprisingly easy and something I could have done several times over, things got bumpy during the birth. My daughter, Lily, was in the breech position and I had to have an emergency caesarian delivery. At the time, I joked about how she would have a nice, round head. I always like to maintain a positive, upbeat attitude. The feelings that coursed through me as I finally held my daughter amazed me.
Immediately, I was determined to do whatever was necessary to give her all of the joy, security and love that she deserved. I wanted to help her to become all that I knew she would be capable of, to help her learn, to be her coach and to provide her with this incredible love that I had never felt until then. As soon as I held her, nothing else was important and my existence was centered around her. I wanted to spend forever holding her, to memorize her little face, to burn her scent into my mind and to safeguard her against all of the bad things in the world. In that single moment, everything seemed so incredibly perfect that I never could have dreamt of the nightmare that was looming on the horizon.
A little over three months following Lily’s birth, I received the life-altering news that I had malignant pleural mesothelioma. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the doctor said that unless I got started with treatments as quickly as possible, I wouldn’t live more than 15 more months. I thank the Lord for my husband’s presence during that fateful news. I was in a state of shock and all I could think of was my daughter and husband and how I couldn’t bear to leave them to suffer without me. While I was thinking of these things, my husband listened to the doctor’s information and considered the different options for treatment.
Without hesitating, he opted for the most aggressive course of treatment. As it just so happened, the best course of treatment was located in Boston. This put me under the care of one of the world’s foremost experts in mesothelioma. The procedure required me to have my entire left lung removed as well as my diaphragm and pericardium. I spent 18 days in the hospital’s recovery ward and an additional two weeks in a Boston outpatient center. After that, I spent two months with my parents, who had been caring for Lily this whole time, in South Dakota. Finally, I went back home to Minnesota to receive radiation and chemo.
Like all mothers would do, I sacrificed what I had to so that I could be around for my daughter many years down the road. In this case, that meant that I couldn’t be there when Lily turned six months old. It was an extremely difficult thing to do to be separated from my newborn daughter for an entire month, but it was the fact that she needed me that imbued me with the strength to fight my disease and the risky surgery and treatments that would follow.
When I think back on my battle with mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer that has a 95 percent fatality rate, I understand now that it took being a new mother to give me the hope and strength to push forward. The knowledge that my precious little girl would need her mommy throughout her entire life was what gave me the will to get through each day. Therefore, when my dear Lily tells everyone that she saved her mommy’s life, she couldn’t possibly be more right.
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