13-Year Mesothelioma Survivor Celebrates Surgery Anniversary Every Year

When it comes to being a mesothelioma survivor, Heather Von St. James is one of the most remarkable cases of all. The Atlanta native was recently profiled by one of her local news stations to mark Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and she told the story of having been diagnosed 13 years earlier with the rare and fatal form of cancer. At that time she was  told she had just 15 months to live. Recounting her experience, she said, “I am an optimist by nature, so being a victim just isn’t my way of doing things.”

Instead of giving in to despair, she opted to undergo extrapleural pneumonectomy, the aggressive mesothelioma surgery that removes the affected lung and other nearby tissue. In her case, that meant removal of her left lung, half of her diaphragm, a couple of ribs and the lining of her heart. As traumatic as the surgery was, it was obviously successful, and Von St. James has chosen to use the anniversary of the surgery as a celebration of a life-changing event. She calls it “Lung Leaving’ Day”, and each year she invites her community to join her in a ceremony where they build a fire, write their fears onto plates, then smash them into the fire as “a way to turn what could be considered a horrible day into something with a positive spin,”

After facing down mesothelioma, she is a believer in the ceremony as a symbol of overcoming fear. “People take something personal away from it each year. They’re able to face and overcome fears in their own lives that have held them back. By sharing the event with others we’ve been able to give back and make a difference in the mesothelioma community.”

Mesothelioma is a rare and fatal form of cancer that affects people who have been exposed to asbestos. The profile done on Von St. James recognized November as Lung Cancer Awareness Month, though mesothelioma occurs so infrequently as to barely register among the 200,000 cases of lung cancer that are diagnosed in Americans each year. The most common is non-small cell lung cancer, which affects 80 percent of lung cancer victims, and the second most-common is small cell lung cancer, which affect 15 percent of lung cancer victims. The other 5 percent of lung cancer cases are rare types of malignancies like mesothelioma.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma and you need information about surgery or other treatment options, the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net can help. Contact us today at 1-800-692-8608.

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is the head writer of our Mesothelioma.net news blog. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Terri believes that knowledge is power and she is committed to sharing news about the impact of mesothelioma, the latest research and medical breakthroughs, and victims’ stories.

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