Wellness Wednesday: Fear Not


“Courage is knowing what not to fear”
         — Plato

Fear is real. It exists for a reason. It is a beacon in the dark warning of dangers and threats. It keeps us from indulging in impulses that may ultimately harm us and sends us warning signals when something is not right. Fear can also be the reef that runs us aground. It makes us afraid of doing things and growing in life. It can make us give up. Irrational fear leads to despair. These unnecessary fears can be conquered by hope.

I harbor the fear that when truly challenged, I will discover I am really just a coward. I hope this isn’t the case. Oh, I’m sure for a good space of time I will freak out and run around in circles before I finally take a breath and calm down. It’s what my ADDled brain usually does do.

These days email, and the hundreds of messages I have to wade through, strikes fear in me. Even there, I found a beacon of light.

I was recently contacted by a courageous woman who is truly inspiring and full of hope. Her name is Heather Von St. James and all she asked is that I share her story.

She is a woman who looked death in the face and kicked its ass.

In 2005, she was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. This was just a few months after the birth of her daughter. She was told she had 15 months to live. At the age of 36, she was given a death sentence.

All this because she liked to wear her father’s work jacket when she was a little girl. Her father worked in drywall construction and his jacket was covered in asbestos.

I can only imagine the fears she faced.

While nursing her baby she began to rapidly lose weight among other symptoms. Fear raised the warning signals, letting her know something wasn’t right. This led her and her husband to seek out answers and ultimately treatment.

There was the diagnosis of cancer.

Then, the fear of not being there for her daughter, her husband, of being cheated out of life.

Cam_Lil_HVSJ Family.jpg
Cameron, Lily, and Heather

There was the cancer treatment itself. Dr. David Sugarbaker, a renowned mesothelioma surgeon at the Boston based Brigham and Women’s hospital recommended a surgical procedure called extrapleural pneumonectomy. It involves the removal of a lung, a portion of the diaphragm, the linings of the lungs and heart  (just reading that is scary).

It was a risky procedure that promised the best possible outcome. Heather, with full support from her husband and family, agreed to have the surgery.

She did not allow fear to run her aground. She used it as a beacon in the dark to seek out the best medical treatment, and find the community, and the support she needed to give her hope.

“When hope is in the equation, the odds don’t matter.”

After she received her diagnosis, Dr. Sugarbaker told her, “When hope is in the equation, the odds don’t matter.”  He inspired her — she had hope: the hope that she would be around to raise her daughter. She had hope that she would be in that 2% survival rating. Hope shatters fear. She may have lost a lung, but she gained a lifetime.

Today, as a cancer survivor, her hope is to prevent any other families from going through what she did, and to spread hope and inspiration along the way.

This is one kick-ass woman. Her story has inspired me to smash my fears*!

Celebrating Lung Leavin’ Day

Visit Mesothelioma.com to learn more

For more about Heather’s story visit her  10 year survivorship blog series!

*To learn about what Heather calls Lung-Leavin’ day and how to smash your fears go here