Heather Von. St. James teaches that life is worth fighting for

When she was 36 years old and only three months after her daughter was born, Heather Von St. James was diagnosed with mesothelioma – a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

She was exposed to asbestos when she was a kid because her dad worked in construction and would come home covered in drywall dust — "chock full of asbestos."

Heather knew something was wrong because she was losing about five to seven pounds every week. 

Can you imagine thinking you have your whole life ahead of you to be there for all the special moments in your child's life and grow old with the person you married — only to find out from a doctor that you have 15 months to live?

But Heather didn't let the diagnosis stop her. She didn't just throw up her arms and say, "I give up." Instead, she fought for her life.

"There was no option other than living through this," she said. "I was going to beat it no matter what." 

And that fight paid off.

Sunday will be the 8th anniversary of Heather's life saving surgery, which involved a risky procedure requiring the removal of her left lung.

Cameron Von St. James, Heather's husband, said, "My wife’s chronic illness taught us the importance of acknowledging and overcoming our fears, something that prevents us all from living life to the fullest."

Heather and Cameron coined Feb. 2 as "LungLeavin' Day." And after Cameron sent me an email telling me about their "holiday," I plan on celebrating as well (after all, celebrating life is way more important than the Super Bowl…at least that's what I think).

"The purpose of LungLeavin’ Day is to encourage and empower others battling their own illnesses and life challenges to face their fears! On this day we celebrate for those who are no longer with us, for those who continue to fight, for those who are currently going through a tough time in their life, and most importantly, we celebrate life!" Cameron said to me in an email.

 Heather said the disease she overcame taught her to live in the moment.

 "Don't give up," she said. "Don't take a death sentence as a diagnosis. There is hope."

I think Heather is an inspiration to everyone, no matter their illness — physical or mental. Sometimes it is easy to give up on life. After all, life is hard — and, when suffering with an illness or disorder, life becomes even harder.

 But Heather couldn't give up on life. Not for herself and not for those people who relied on her and loved her more than anything. And I hope her story touched you like it touched me and taught you that life is a gift worth fighting for.

 For more information on "LungLeavin' Day," visit mesothelioma.com/heather/lungleavinday.

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