{Guest Post by Heather Von St. James} 
I never set out to be a stay-at-home mom. I was going to be a working mom, the main breadwinner, and let my husband be the one who took care of things when I had to work. It is what we agreed on and we were happy with the decision.

Then I actually HAD the baby.

Lily was born in August of 2005, and when I had to go back to work part time after 4 weeks, I was not happy.  I didn’t want to spend 4 hours a day away from her.  How on earth was I going to cope when I started back full time a month later?


Every time I dropped her at daycare I was sad, and felt horrible leaving her there. Although I loved my daycare, it just wasn’t me raising her.  Then something happened: something tragic, something that we never planned on or anticipated.

When Lily was 3 1/2 months old, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a cancer almost always caused by asbestos exposure . Our world turned upside down.  I was not prepared to deal with this while being a first time mom, but I had no choice, this was my life now.
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Mom lying on the floor holding baby above her head, noses touching. Text reads I never set out to be a stay at home mom guest post by Heather Von St James.

Why I Never Set Out to be A Stay-at-Home Mom

I immediately made the decision to take an extended leave of absence from my job. I was facing an epic battle for my life, and work just didn’t matter anymore… being mommy did. I wanted to spend as much time with Lily as I could.

As the next few weeks progressed, and we learned more about my cancer, and the options, we made the tough decision to travel to Boston, some 1300 miles away to have surgery that not only would not only prolong my life, but save it.


Being a parent means making sacrifices… and we made the sacrifice of missing a couple of months of Lily’s infant life, so I could be here to raise her. She went to live with my parents in my childhood home in South Dakota, while my husband, Cameron, and I traveled to Boston to have my left lung removed. This was a 7-hour operation, with an extended hospital stay. All in all, I was in Boston for 35 days. Lily’s entire 6th month of life.


When I was healthy enough to travel, I moved in with my parents, who would help me with Lily until I was able to care for her on my own, which would take a couple more months. My husband had to stay home in MN and work, as bills still needed to be paid, and he was only able to see our baby a total of 36 hours in 3 months; once again, a sacrifice that had to be made in the interim until things got better.


Lily was so little, she doesn’t remember it, she just knows that she was with people who loved her and took great care of her.  We were both finally able to move home 2 months later, just in time for me to start the next phase of treatment, chemotherapy.


It was a struggle to juggle the demands of being mommy with the physical demands of battling an illness. Chemo really took it out of me, and for the 6 days after I had chemo, I would need help in caring for her. She was just 9 months old. When I felt good, we would go to the park with friends, or just play in the yard.  A lot of time was spent with me laying on the sofa and she bringing me toys.


After finishing 4 rounds of chemo, Lily turned 1. I was well enough to plan a big celebration, and friends and family surrounded us. We celebrated much more than just her 1-year birthday…we celebrated life, and the fact that I was still there watching my baby grow.


Radiation soon followed, and this presented another set of challenges. I had radiation daily, and it took about an hour, so I always had to arrange for a sitter.  We had great friends and neighbors who were happy to help out.  We worked around Lily’s schedule, so I could sleep when she slept. We somehow made it through that year with the help of many people.


Cancer taught us that asking for help is not a bad thing. It also taught me the value of being a stay-at-home mom.  I’m one of the fortunate ones. I’m still here, 7 years later.  Lily turned 7 this last August, and I celebrated 7 years cancer free in February.

It is our milestone we celebrate together, and I couldn’t ask for more.


Have you had to balance a chronic illness with motherhood? 


Mom standing behind son in the kitchen helping him stir something in a bowl. Text reads I never set out to be a stay at home mom.
I never set out to be a stay-at-home mom. Living with a chronic illness chose for me.

This post is featured in A Complete Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms: When You Need to Connect with SAHMs.

Connect with other SAHM experiences HERE.


I never set out to be a stay-at-home mom. Living with a chronic illness chose for me.
This is a guest post written by Heather Von St James. She is a wife, mother, and 7-year mesothelioma survivor. She is a guest blogger for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Heather is a beacon of hope for mesothelioma victims as well as mothers battling illnesses. Her story is one of hope and inspiration and she continues to spread her message to anyone who may be going through similar situations to her own.

Check out Heather’s story on the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog or connect with her via her Facebook page.

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