On August 4, 2005, when my only daughter came into the world, I began to understand more fully how “It takes a village to raise a child.” On this most wonderful day, as my husband and I were surrounded by family and friends celebrating Lily’s arrival, we had no idea what horror lay around the corner.
Soon after the end of my maternity leave, I began to feel ill. Despite the weariness that comes with being a new mom, my issues felt more serious. After numerous tests, the diagnosis came. I suffered from malignant pleural mesothelioma, a cancer frequently associated with asbestos exposure. Without treatment, I would have about 15 months to live, and my baby was not yet 4 months old. So as it turned out, the things I were feeling were not symptoms for being a new mom, they were symptoms of mesothelioma.
Despite the grim prognosis, even with treatment, I made the choice to take the most aggressive path of treatment. My husband and I flew to Boston where I underwent an extrapleural pneumenectomy in which my left lung, including the surrounding tissue and the attached tumor, were removed. Thank god that I was in the hands of one of the worlds best mesothelioma doctors. Following surgery, I spent 18 days recovering in the hospital before being allowed to return home.
Needless to say, I desperately needed my village to help care for Lily during this time. While I was being treated in Boston, my parents attended to Lily, who lived with them for a while. Additionally, many of the girls I used to babysit for volunteered to watch Lily while her grandparents worked during the day.
As Lily grew, my parents sent pictures of her growth and development many miles away from Boston in South Dakota. I watched her learn to eat solid food, roll around and even learn to scoot from these pictures. There in Boston, my nurses, some new members of my village, would come to make over Lily’s pictures while all of us choked back the tears. She was the reason I fought for my life.
After my return from Boston, I spent two months of recovery before beginning regular chemo and radiation treatments. I finally became, once again, a regular part of Lily’s life. Now that we are together again, we as a family intentionally embrace life, because we understand its fragility. Life may not be easy, but we will do all we can to enjoy whatever comes. Like Patrick Dennis says in his book Auntie Mame “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”
Despite the gravity of my diagnosis, a lot of good came from the bad. For that, I am thankful.