What Having Faith Means

What Having Faith Means

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I was so excited to celebrate all the firsts with my husband, Cam, and newborn daughter, Lily. While I was pregnant, I would imagine our first day home together, our first Halloween, (I already even had an idea for her costume!)  But more than anything, I was looking forward to our first Christmas as a family. Even though Lily would only be 4 months old, I wanted to make it one to remember. And it was, but for all the wrong reasons. A month before the Christmas holiday,  I heard the cold, harsh words from my doctor, “You have pleural mesothelioma.” My world stopped when I heard those words. That December was a time of great uncertainty and prayer as I practically begged God to allow me to raise Lily. I knew how much she and my husband needed me, so our holiday period was markedly different as we waited for what would come when I began to receive treatment in February.

There was no telling how my faith would change when my doctor told me that I had pleural mesothelioma and that, if left untreated, I would have just 15 months left to live. All I can tell you is that I knew I would never lose faith. Faith made itself known through different times and ways during the treatment. It guided me and let me know I was going to be okay when it was all over. This started with having my left lung removed. I maintained faith in my surgeon Dr. David Sugarbaker. He had all the experience and expertise necessary to treat mesothelioma. Then came the radiation and chemotherapy treatments where I fully believed that the drugs would be able to eradicate any remaining cancer cells. Even when I was so weak I couldn’t even leave my bed I had faith that my body was strong enough to overcome the radiation that was breaking me down as it broke down the cancer.

Thankfully the treatment worked and I was able to slowly regain my strength. Even so I felt my faith wavering. I felt the community, values, and people that had been with me since I was a child slip away from me as I tried to put together my new life in the first few years following treatment. I had become disconnected. I wasn’t really disconnected from my faith, or even the values that mattered to me as a Christian, but I was dealing with people who claimed to identify with my values being so hateful and ignorant. I could no longer remain quiet following my own experience with cancer and during my time advocating for mesothelioma patients. There were things I just couldn’t accept as being right. While it did pain me to do so, I began to drift further away from the faith and Church that had been there for me since I was just a child.

I continued to look for answers all this time though. Then I made a friend who was going through the similar issues as me. We were able to bring each other back to that place of faith that had disappeared for us. It took a while but I began to regain the faith that I once had, but wth a new and fresh understanding. I had been beaten down too much by watching friends and family, including my father, lose their battle to cancer. Then one day I heard that little voice in my heart again. It told me the short and simple message of “have faith”.

After I reflected on how my life had changed, especially in the past 11 years, I can say that there is more than one definition to having faith. It’s still trusting in all that God does, but also believing in everything that has brought me to who I am, where I am, and what I do today. That is what faith has come to mean to me. So this holiday season, enjoy every moment of the time spent with loved ones, and continue to follow your faith into a blessed 2017.

Heather Von St. James About Heather Von St. James

Heather Von St. James is soon to be celebrating her 11th year of mesothelioma cancer survivorship. As an advocate for mesothelioma awareness, she strives to ban the dangerous use of asbestos and shares her story in hopes of providing light to others diagnosed with the rare cancer.

Learn more about Heather's story here.


  1. Heather, I appreciated reading your story and hearing that your faith imploded with even more new definitions. Keep up the good work. You surely had good doctors! But that faith helped too.

  2. Heather, thank you for sharing your story and your test of faith. I have a question for you if you would please email me. Patti(dot)shene(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks!

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