“I saved my mommy’s life.” This phrase, in response to being asked about my battle with cancer, has become my 7-year-old daughter’s standard reply. As natural to her as declaring that she is thirsty or has an upset tummy, these words have become an integral part of Lily’s reality. And while some people may not fully accept such a dramatic claim from a young child, I can confirm the truth in those five beautiful words.
How My Daughter Saved My Life
A Mother’s Battle with Mesothelioma
After waiting seven years to have children, I was understandably hesitant when my husband Cameron and I decided to begin the journey toward parenthood. At the age of 35, I was concerned about complications due to my age, and about how long it might take before we conceived. As it turned out, my fears were unfounded: just three short months (and three pregnancy tests) later, we got the news that would change our lives forever: we were having a baby! In retrospect, I am amazed at how quickly I took to the idea of becoming a mother, and to the belly rubbing. Of course, I was simultaneously shocked and nervous, but more than anything I was excited and curious. What would our sweet baby be like? And what kind of mom would I be? Fun? Strict? Cool? I knew none of those things ultimately mattered: beyond anything else, I just wanted to be a good one.
Initially, my pregnancy was so smooth that I joked about doing it 10 times over. However, Lily was breech, and needed to be delivered by emergency c-section. Always the optimist, I remember joking to Cameron, “At least she will have a round head!” When I finally got to hold her, I was overwhelmed by emotion. I knew in that moment that I would do everything I could to provide her with an abundance of love, protection, and happiness. I would nurture her toward her very best–teaching, coaching, and loving her in a way I couldn’t have begun to understand just five minutes earlier. As I studied her lovely face and inhaled her sweet baby scent, I knew that nothing else mattered: my life was about her. Little did I know that this perfect moment would soon be shattered by terrible news.
I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma when Lily was 3.5 month old. If I began treatment immediately, the doctor explained, I would have 15 months to live. As I attempted to absorb this news through my complete shock, I could only think about one thing: how could I leave Lily and Cameron alone in this world without me? My husband, meanwhile, conferred with the doctor, listening to the various treatment options. Without pause, he chose the most aggressive form of treatment. And so we headed to Boston to meet with one of the world’s top mesothelioma specialists, who recommended an extreme procedure in which my entire left lung, and the lining of my heart and diaphragm, were removed. The recovery was long: 18 days in the hospital, followed by two weeks in an outpatient facility, and two months of care at my parent’s home in South Dakota, where I was at last reunited with Lily. Over three months since we’d left Minnesota, we finally returned home where I began chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Choosing this particular treatment option meant making a huge sacrifice. Missing Lily’s entire sixth month was the hardest thing I have ever experienced–far harder than surgery, chemo, radiation and anything else cancer hurled my way. And so it was Lily’s need for her mother that gave me the courage to face the uncertainty ahead.
Mesothelioma kills nearly 95 percent of those diagnosed with the cancer. When I consider how I came to be part of the lucky remaining five percent, I know that being Lily’s mother, and knowing her great need for me, gave me the strength to keep fighting every single dark day. When Lily proudly proclaims, “I saved my mommy’s life,” I can confirm her absolute truth. We continue to save each other every day.