In a world of constant change and seemingly constant destruction, it is so hard to find anything to hold on to, to keep yourself going. It can seem impossible when it feels like life is attacking you personally time and time again. Or when everything is going your way and suddenly the walls of your life crumble around you. I am constantly amazed at the resiliency of humans, of the unimaginable capacity of people to be given a crisis and choose to battle it and choose to stay strong.
I understand that feeling to give up and the hopelessness that can strangle itself around us as we try so hard to breathe. But I’ve learned a secret as I’ve grown older: it’s all a matter of choice. Choosing to live with hope is so hard and deserves to be noticed. Even if you are only capable of the smallest forms of hope, a tiny pinprick of hope in the middle of a sea of worry, that’s enough. Hold on to that and let it grow. One of the best ways to do that is by finding stories of people who radiate with hope and love.
Heather Von St. James is a ten year Mesothelioma survivor. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that occurs in the lining of the body’s internal organs; it is also a disease with a usual diagnosis of 15 months. The largest cause of Mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos or inhalation of asbestos particles. Usually there is a latency period of many years before symptoms and diagnosis occur. Heather was diagnosed at the age of 36, right after giving birth to her beautiful daughter, Lily Rose.
|Heather and her beautiful family|
Heather went through treatment and beat her diagnosis of just 15 months to live, even having a surgery on February 2, 2006 to remove a lung (which she now celebrates each year with a day called Lung Leavin’ Day, a day spent writing fears on plates and smashing them into a fire… sign me up for next year!) and through it all, she has kept her spirit of hope alive for herself, for her family, and for others suffering with Mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma accounts for around 3,000 cancer cases each year in the United States. Even if you haven’t been personally involved with cancer, it touches all of our lives. About ten years ago, my aunt and uncle both died from two different forms of cancer nine hours apart. My entire family felt and still feels their loss and with that sort of cancer running rampant in our family, it can be so hard to stay hopeful and live life without fear. Even if cancer isn’t your worry, there are so many things in this world that seek to frighten us. Heather’s urge, as well as mine, is to work to fight that fear and remain alive and hopeful.
July 26th is National All or Nothing Day, a day that celebrates that carpe diem attitude that can pull a person through life. As Heather says, “I’ve been accused my whole life of wearing rose colored glasses and seeing life very optimistically and I have no intention of ever taking them off.”
I’ll be the first to admit to being susceptible to a bad attitude. I feel as though quite a bit of hardship and struggle has fallen on me. I’ve been through a lot in relationships, with my family, with my brain working very hard to keep me sad and treat me poorly. But at the end of the day, one thing has held true; I have survived all of it. Going through all of my struggles has made me so strong and it’s given me more to draw from in my writing as well as in my conversations with others. It has made me be more open and lovely even through all of the blackness. I’m not saying that I always have a good attitude about life- far from it- but I do know that at the end of all things, I will be ok. I may be sad for a very long time, or bitter, but I’ll feel it while it happens and then return to hope.
Each day is a choice for you to love yourself and choose to carry on. Give your all. Love deeply and protect your heart. Don’t be afraid to let yourself feel whatever it is you are feeling, but always remember the big picture. Don’t let your heart turn hard even as others around you demand you to stop caring and demand you hate yourself like they hate themselves. Do not fall for it. You are lovely and capable. Suck the negative from your life and remember that your life is your story, your victories will make history. You are alive and you are good.
I encourage all of you to pull some of Heather’s light into your life, especially on July 26th. Take life by the horns and live it to the absolute fullest because everything is temporary and every breath deserves to be celebrated even if you feel pain. Pain turns to power and beauty and I will believe that until the day I die. I will live my life with one of my favorite quotes in mind from John Green: “We need never be hopeless because we can never be irreparably broken.”
I would also like to thank Heather Von St. James for reaching out to me and sharing her story with me. Thank you so much for letting me help spread your gift for hope and tell the world not only about this disease but about the restorative power of hope. Thank you thank you thank you.
Get out into the world, lovelies. Suck the life out of it and remember to remain hopeful. You are all lovely.