When you have a strong support system, life events feel different. This could not be more true for me. For a while, life was unfolding fairly normally, including when I gave birth to my daughter in 2005. There wasn’t anything unusual about my pregnancy, except when I delivered Lily on August 4th, it was by way of an emergency C-section. In that moment, I was immediately flooded with the well wishes of my family and friends. It seemed life would continue to run smoothly.

In a twist of fate, my life took a turn within a few months after Lily’s birth. Shortly after I went back to work, I began to feel a loss of energy and was easily winded. I assumed I was adjusting to motherhood, but my instincts told me to see my physician. After undergoing a variety of tests, I was diagnosed on November 21st. I had a cancer called malignant pleural mesothelioma in the lining of my lung. It’s caused mainly from exposure to asbestos. When I was younger, I had been exposed without my knowledge.

My doctor said if I didn’t receive treatment, I’d have 15 months to live. I knew I couldn’t leave Lily and my husband alone. In an attempt to survive, I flew with my husband to Boston to undergo a special treatment for mesothelioma called extrapleural Heather-Lilypneumonectomy. On February 2nd, my treatment began. My left lung was removed, and I spent two and a half weeks in the hospital recovering. It took two more months before I could begin chemotherapy and radiation.

The experience would have been unbearable without our support system reassuring and helping us. Some people unexpectedly stepped in and offered assistance, while others disappeared. My parents cared for Lily while I was in Boston, and they had their own team of supporters as well. Church members from my past and girls I used to baby-sit offered their love and encouragement or watched Lily while my parents worked. We connected with people in Boston who helped us get through day-to-day struggles.

In South Dakota, Lily was advancing to solid foods and moving around more. My mom e-mailed pictures, and my husband printed them so I could watch my daughter grow. I shared the images with the nurses and tried not to break down. Lily was my reason for survival. She was being cared for so well, and her bond with her grandparents became deep-seated.

We all now know the fibers of life are delicate, and we savor every moment. I have learned that positives come from negatives. I’m extremely grateful that my cancer has created such an enormous amount of good in my life.

Upon her diagnosis of mesothelioma, Heather Von St James, a 43-year-old wife and mother., vowed to be a source of hope for other patients who found themselves with the same diagnosis. Now, over 6 years later, her story has been helping people all over the globe. She continues her advocacy and awareness work by blogging, speaking and sharing her message of hope and healing with others. Check out more of her story at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.