Today we have a special guest post from a blog reader named Heather. She has an incredible story to share with us with an important message.
It was all perfect. I had the nursery ready, the diapers and sleepers bought, all we needed was
For Lily to be born. She arrived bright and early in the morning on August 4th, 2005 in her own unique fashion.
According to measurements at my appointments, she was growing great, in spite of the fact that I was not gaining much weight, but during the contractions, she flipped. All of a sudden, my water broke, we rushed to the hospital to find out she was a frank breech, coming out bottom first. Before I had much time to react, I was prepped for an emergency C-section. I remember her crying and knew it would all be OK. Or so we thought.
When Lily was 3 ½ months old, I was diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive form of cancer called malignant pleural mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos and the prognosis is very poor, with no current cure. Here I was, dealing with all the stress that comes with being a new mom, and now our world was turned upside down. The survival rates for mesothelioma are dismal and at the time I was diagnosed, I was given 15 months to live unless I had a serious medical intervention. I knew one thing, and one thing only, I would do whatever it took to save my life.
I’ve learned much through my cancer journey and the biggest lesson I learned is that asking for help is the most important thing you can do. As a new mom, there is so much pressure to do it all. We need to be the perfect mom, wife and housekeeper. We are loathe to ask for help, but if we do, we feel like a failure. There was no way I could have made it through my cancer battle if I didn’t ask for help. I ended up flying to Boston from Minneapolis St. Paul for my surgery to remove my left lung due to the cancer. I had to be in the hospital for 18 days , and remain in Boston for 2 weeks after that. There was no way that we could have cared for all of Lily’s needs as an infant and recover from lifesaving surgery.
We had to ask family for help. My parents stepped in and were able to take care of her for those months that I was unable to. Lily lived with them for the 5 weeks that I was in Boston. Since my husband had to go back to work shortly after my surgery, they took care of both of us for the few months after my surgery too. They were absolutely vital in those months after surgery. My husband also learned as a caregiver to not only me, but Lily as well, that asking for help was the difference between sanity and wanting to pull his hair out. Sometimes it was as simple as asking for someone to watch Lily for a couple of hours while he took a break, or asking help of someone to help clean the house.
Someone called a local church and told them about our situation. It was one of the kindest things anyone did for us. That weekend, scores of teenagers showed up, cleaned our home, and did months of neglected yard work for us. Our whole life had been put on hold, and much of those everyday things had fallen to the side, and in one day those kids made our home look beautiful again. I’m always humbled by the kindness of loved ones, and especially strangers.
Asking for help has never been easy for me. I’ve always been one of those people who powers through on my own. Sometimes this has served me well. Other times, that wasn’t the case. When I got sick and had to ask family and friends for help, it went against everything I had stood for, but I knew there was no way I would make it through being a new parent, much less being a cancer patient, without help from other people. What I found was that people love helping people. I was afraid of being a burden to them by asking for help. I was afraid they would say no or think I was imposing, but I learned was that total strangers stepped up and helped us when we needed it most. I learned that friends and family lined up to provide meals, house cleaning, babysitting, pretty much anything we needed. I was humbled, and made a promise to myself that when I was in the position to help others, I would pay forward all the kindness that was shown to us.
It’s been 11 years since Lily was born. Almost 11 years surviving the cancer that I was told would kill me in 15 months. In this journey I’ve stayed true to my promise to reach out and help others in need, even when they are too proud to ask. I do it for more reasons than I originally started with. I do it as an example to my daughter, who on her 10th birthday wanted to help the animals of the Humane Society, and instead of birthday presents, took donations. She raised over $600. I lead by example, and it makes my heart so proud to see she is following in my footsteps. I’m even more proud to say on her 11th birthday, she did the same. She says it feels good to help.
Wherever you are in life, at the point where you need help, or can help others, I can’t urge you enough to just ask. It has made such a difference in my life, and I look forward to helping others for a long time.
Heather is a mom, wife, and 10 year mesothelioma survivor. She advocates for current and future victims of asbestos exposure by connecting with them across many different outlets. Check out her 10 month blog series about being a survivor!