October is ‘Health Literacy Month’. This years theme is: “Be a Health Literacy Hero.” Health Literacy Heroes are individuals, teams, or organizations who not only identify health literacy problems but also act to solve them.
Allow me to introduce you to a true hero. This is Heather Von St. James. She is a Mesothelioma survivor going on 10 years.
Her story began in 2005 shortly after the birth of her daughter. It was at this time a mass was discovered in the lower left portion of her lung. She had cancer. A specific type of cancer called Mesothelioma, of which 80% of cases can be attributed to asbestos exposure. You see, Heather’s father worked with drywall, and brought the asbestos fibers home every night on the jacket that his daughter would proudly wear and play in. Interestingly enough, a vast majority of the 3,000 people diagnosed each year in the United States are male. Of the 3,000 Americans diagnosed, 90% will not survive the two year mark. So as you can already see, Heather has beaten the odds. The beginning of her journey though, was anything but hopeful. She was told that without treatment, she would maybe last 15 months. Imagine her heartbreak as she looked into the face of her three month old daughter, knowing she would likely not live to watch her grow.
One of the things that Heather shares when retelling her story, is how she immediately went online to research her disease and what a mistake it was. It is worthwhile to quote her here, as so many people understandably do this and become ‘defined’ by what they read. Heather writes, “Everything I read confirmed what the doctors told me: I would be dead in 15 months. I decided right then to stop using the Internet to determine my life span.”
She entered the grueling world of chemo and radiation treatments cancer patients are all too familiar with. When she finished treatment and began to heal, she decided to tell her story. She has become an advocate with a mission to spread awareness of this devastating disease that takes the life of 2,500 people each year in America, and a staggering 43,000 people globally. Want another shocking fact? Asbestos is banned in over 60 countries around the world, although some of those allow for partial uses of asbestos. The shocker? The United States of America has NO ban on asbestos! Yes, there are areas where it is no longer used. However, it is still used in gaskets, friction products, roofing materials, fireproofing materials, and in hundreds of consumer products that are used every day.
Heather is a hero because she is a fighter. She not only fought for her life in order to stay with her husband and their 3 month old daughter, but she continues to fight to hearten and bring hope to those touched by this insidious disease. She is one those inspiring human beings about which it can be said, ‘the world is a better place because Heather is here fighting with us and for us’.