In the lead up to Mesothelioma Awareness Day on September 26, I chatted to the gorgeous, Heather Von St James, whose story is absolutely incredible. Knowing what she and her family have been through over the last 10 years is a reminder of just how much we need our bodies and our health, and what amazing gifts they are. Just little reminder to love and take care of yourself.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your story…
My name is Heather Von St James. I’m a wife, mom to a 10 year old daughter, and proud owner of a few furry family members as well. I love summer and warm weather. I love being outside and working in the yard. I’m a camper, boater and life lover. Up until being diagnosed with mesothelioma, I was a busy salon owner and stylist. I loved my job, but life had a different plan for me. I was diagnosed on November 21, 2005 with a disease called malignant pleural mesothelioma, a cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure. My daughter was just 3 months old. I was getting into the swing of things and adjusting to motherhood when the illness struck. It was a series of symptoms that finally added up to the diagnosis. I was referred to Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston to the International Mesothelioma Program. They put me through a series of tests to see if I was a candidate for surgery. Two days before Christmas in 2005, I got the phone call I had been waiting for. The surgery I was scheduled for was called an extra pleural pneumonectomy. It entails the removal of the pleura, which is the lining of the lung, where the cancer was, the left lung, the 6th rib, the left half of my diaphragm, the lining of my heart, both of which were replaced with surgical gore-tex.
During the surgery, a chemotherapy solution was here to 140 degrees f, and pumped into the now empty chest cavity. After an hour of application, the solution was pumped out and I was sewn up and sent to recovery. I spent the next 18 days in the hospital due to some post surgical complications. I spent 2 more weeks in Boston, just to make sure all would be ok, then I returned home to my childhood home where my daughter had been living with my parents while I had surgery. I was not able to care for her on my own yet, so I lived with my parents for 2 months.
My husband stayed at our home in Minnesota to work. Just because one gets sick, doesn’t mean the bills stop coming! I’m so thankful I was able to stay with my parents during this time. When I returned home, I started chemotherapy. I had 4 sessions of chemo, 3 weeks apart. I finished chemo at the end of July, just in time for Lily’s 1st birthday. We threw a huge party, and then a month later I started radiation. I underwent 30 sessions of radiation and finished up treatments almost a year after my first symptoms appeared. I was cautiously optimistic that all the things we did to get rid of the cancer worked, and at my next appointment in Boston, I got the news that I was all clear.
My family means the world to me. I pretty much spent the first year of Lily’s life sick, after being told I only had about 15 months to live. It was hard to hear, but eventually a quiet determination set in. I was not going to let my baby girl grow up without her mother, nor my husband without his wife. I had to beat this, and I was going to so that I could stand proud next to my family and show others that with hope, the odds don’t matter. My family is what got me through my entire cancer experience. That, and some of the most brilliant doctors I’ve ever met. My passion now lies in being able to be the voice of so many who weren’t fortunate enough to beat their battles like I did. My ultimate goal is to never see what we experienced happen to another family.
Never fry bacon naked.
Ok, all joking aside at my first follow up appointment with my Surgeon, Dr David Sugarbaker, he told me to go home and live. Put this diagnosis at the back of your mind and live your life, you owe that to yourself. Even though I advocate for others, I very much put his advice to use.
Every day is different. I spend time online or on the phone helping out the meso community. I do a lot of work with the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation as well blogging for Mesothelioma.com. I talk with patients, and if they happen to live nearby, I go visit them. I love gardening, and in the summer, will spend hours in my garden with my flowers. I volunteer at my daughter’s school during the school year doing various things, so I’m busy being a mom and wife. Sometimes I look back at the end of the day and wonder how many hats I wear during a day. I find myself doing something different every day. I’m rarely ever bored.
I love taking care of people. Have you ever heard of love languages? Mine is Acts of Service. I love doing small thing for people that make them feel good, it gives me that warm fuzzy feeling. Whether it be a random act of kindness, or buying my husband’s favourite ice cream for him, playing a game with my daughter, or cooking her favourite foods, those things are how I show love.
Hi Jessica, I believe in synchronicity so when I was guided to you .on FB I was intrigued and inspired. I turned 46 last week and my husband bought me your book. I wanted to thank you for sharing your wisdom in such a beautifully presented way. My copy is now filled with tabs and post it notes with actual notes throughout. I am dairy intolerant since having my gallbladder removed 15+ years ago, I don't eat meat, very minimal gluten and was told 12 months ago my gut was not digesting my food properly so I wasn't receiving sufficient nutrients and taking supplements would be a waste of time. My weight fluctuates tending to gain rather than lose but now I believe I have a tool to help me bring my body back into balance that I need for my health and longevity of life - so again thank you. The first few steps to creating a stronger path forward for my health has found its foundation in your beautiful book, The Healthy Life.
With kindest regards Samantha
I'm writing this email because I wanted to tell you how much I love your blog and how you really helped me in my health journey. Thank you for sharing all your advices and experiences.
When I started my studies, I was drinking lots of coffee and I was eaten the wrong foods, and feel bad about it, I wasn't at my best. So I had done some research on the net but at first I didn't found advices that are for me, and then I found your blog. It was exactly what I was looking for, good advices and healthy recipes. Now I'm following your advices on rest more, and snacks between meals and prep the meals and take time for myself to reconnect with my body and let go my anxiety, etc, and I have a more balanced life and have a new relationship with food thanks to you.
I bought your book and it's honestly the best book I have ever bought. I suffer from IBS and anxiety. I have paid so much money seeing naturopaths however after reading your book and all of your tips I'm noticing so much of a difference, so simple and easy to follow. And symptoms have dramatically decreased. Also you have helped me to relax. Currently drinking the protein health smoothie! Thankyou your amazing.
Hey Jessica! I haven’t yet brought ‘The Healthy Life’, but I do have the clean life and your slim down plan! I would like to thank you so much for the knowledge your share and the message you put across about health and wellness. I’m studying Nutritional Medicine in Melbourne and absolutely love the philosophy that you share with your JSHealth community. The work you’ve done to show people that leading a healthy lifestyle isn’t boring, tasteless, difficult or depriving is amazing and hope to share the message myself one day. You’ve inspired me to start my own blog , to share the message and have taught me so many things about my own health! You should be proud of your achievements! Thank you again
I searched for help and tips through the Internet and found Jessica Sepel. This is seriously not exaggerated, but she was the reason why I have dared myself to eat again, to have snacks in between, to nourish my body. I could slowly improve my negative thoughts about my body image and my stupid anxiety of gaining weight. Besides, The Cleanest Gut was awesome too! A huge thank you! Especially from my mum. Seriously, without you I wouldn’t be where I am now!
Congratulations on your new book! It looks absolutely gorgeous. I’ve been following you on Instagram for a few years and you’ve inspired me to slowly but surely eat healthier without giving myself a hard time when I don’t. It made me so happy (and weirdly proud) to see the Daily Mail article on The Healthy Life. I remember trying out your recipes before you even had your eBook out! I can’t wait to get my hands on the book. Keep up the great work.
Cooking in this way truly brought out the foodie in me and has instilled a huge passion for health and wellness! Life throws you hard and frustrating things sometimes but I truly believe that this is where we learn more about ourselves and what our passions in life are! Thank you for inspiring me on my journey to health and wellness!
I am a yoga teacher in Johannesburg and am thrilled to have bought your book today. I love making healthy, nutritious food for my family, friends and fellow yogis! Thank you for this book and your inspiration (had to share a pic of my book on my recipe stand in the kitchen).
I bought your beautiful book during the week and told my bestie to go out and buy it also! I love love love it. It is the book I would give to my younger self if I could (I am 41 years old). Everything is just so sensible and informative and is definitely a book all teenagers should have. This should be a text book for girls becoming teens. I will love going back and re-reading it many many times and can't wait to make more of the recipes. Thank you Jess - you are an incredibly inspiring woman and you should feel so proud
My fiancé bought your book and we have cooked some of your meals. Amazing! I love your outlook on a healthy lifestyle and your hints and tips with preparing tasty meals are fantastic. Thanks for reviving us to live a healthier lifestyle and get our bodies wedding ready.
I want to empower you to make good choices, every day. I want you to enhance your understanding of health and nutrition. I'm committed to making sure you live the best life. Because you deserve it. Are you ready to start feeling great?
Let me know your email address so I can send you an eBook '7 Days on my plate' - a little gift from me to you!