Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Heather's Story

Today I have something a little out of the usual to share with you. I'm sure after you read Heather's story, you'll think she's pretty extraordinary too!

Heather with her husband, Cam, and daughter, Lily.

Heather is a wife and mommy, as well as a cancer survivor! I was able to interview her Q and A style. Here we go!

When did you find out you had cancer? What was going on in your life? Were there symptoms and/or problems that brought it to your attention?
I found out on November 21st, 2005, just 3 1/2 months after my only baby was born. I was a new mom, dealing with all that brings,and then having this dropped on me.. It was a shock to say the least. I had many symptoms that could have been explained by postpartum symptoms.. tiredness, weight loss, anemia... but it was the breathlessness that troubled me. I couldn't walk up a flight of stairs without stopping half way to catch my breath.. I knew that was not normal.

You had to have surgery, right? What was going through your mind as you prepared for it? Did you allow yourself to "go there" and wonder/prepare for what would happen if you didn't make it? 
I had major surgery.. One of the toughest there is. My entire left lung, the lining around it, the lining of my heart, the left half of my diaphragm and a rib were all taken out.. My diaphragm and the lining of my heart was replaced with gore tex. I prepared for the surgery by praying.. lots and lots of praying.. and having everyone I knew pray for me too!!  I never let myself go "there" I couldn't.. I had my sweet baby counting on me.. or t least I imagined she was.. she was only 6 months old at the time.. and she needed her mommy... not making it through was not an option. Not for me.

What did you hang on to that helped you fight and make it through surgery and recovery? What inspired you?
Literally I hung onto a baby blanket of Lily's... And what else I hung onto was a word from God my mom told me.. "This is not unto Death"  She heard that while praying, and I clung to that like a life preserver.. Also a scripture.. Jeremiah 29:11.." For I know the plans  I have for you", declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. "  A friend sent me a card with this on it.. I read it every single day.. sometimes multiple times.. The friend who sent me that card was a huge inspiration.. He survived a horrible car accident, over 200 broken bones, and he is alive and well.. doing wonderfully.. Any story of triumph, I hung onto... and swore I would be one of those stories too.

Heather and Cam

Now you're a survivor! What do you do to celebrate? How did your experience change your world view, or at least your daily focus? 
Every year, on the anniversary of my surgery we celebrate "Lungleavin Day ".. Feb 2nd.. or the first Saturday in February... We have a huge party, and we break plates. We write our fears on a plate, take it out to a bonfire in our back yard and smash them into the fire. We had over 60 people celebrating with us this year.. the 6th one!!

How did it change my world view? I'm much more relaxed about things.. I live my life, and try not to let fear get the best of me.. I have been given a second chance, and I vowed to make it a good one.. and impact those around me. I try to stay positive, and upbeat.. for my daughter mostly... She is my world.

What do you want others to learn from your experience? Precautions about health? Attitude? Awareness?
I want them to know that a cancer diagnosis does not always mean death sentence. Mesothelioma has a dismal survival rate, but the more research, more education, the odds are getting better. Awareness is the first step. Most people know mesothelioma from a commercial on daytime TV... it is not about that.. It is a real, tragic disease.. 1000's of people are suffering because of lack of knowledge and lack of quality care. So letting people know there is hope.. It may not be easy, and the choices aren't always what we want, but there is hope ...

What do you do for fun these days? Are your choices impacted by your experience? 
I spend time with family and friends... I really just enjoy every day. When the weather is nice, I can usually be found outside working in my flower gardens and yard, playing with my daughter.. blowing giant bubbles.. We camp, we boat, and in the winter, my husband and Lily ski, while I stay warm in the chalet. We love to travel and have plans for a few trips this summer.. The only impact my experience has had on my choices is to not put them off.. You seriously never know what tomorrow brings, so live for today.. and enjoy it.

Do you have a favorite indulgence?
Too many!!! I would say flowers... I love growing  flowers, having flowers in the house.. nothing like fresh beautiful flowers.. :) Oh.. and great shoes.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why? 
Ireland, Scotland and England...   So many amazing things to see, the history is so rich, and I know so many people there because of this disease, would be great to actually meet them. :) I love the internet for that reason.

What is a passion of yours that no one would guess?
Hm.. that is a hard one.. I'm a pretty open person so I don't really have an answer to that one.  If I had to choose one thing maybe it would be Tattoos? :)  My whole left arm is covered..

Please feel free to share anything else that you'd like to!
My favorite saying is, "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death." I try and live by that..  I try to live with no regrets..  But I'm a normal human, I have my bad days too.. I have fears, I struggle with moments of anxiety, but I always try to put things back into perspective.  I'm here. I'm alive, and I'm happy.

Doesn't Heather inspire you? I know she does me! When she contacted me I was probably whining about a couch I couldn't afford or that my healthy 4-year-old was so rambunctious. Please! I'm so blessed and Heather's story helps me to be thankful for that.

I'm so glad you shared your story, Heather! I'd love to smash some plates with you some day!

To learn more about Heather's journey, please visit her at The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog

1 comment:

  1. Great and inspiring story. Love it when God gives us His words to hang onto. Thanks for sharing and tell Heather thanks, too!



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