If you ask my 7-year-old daughter about my battle with cancer, she'll always tell you the same thing, “I saved my Mommy's life.” Some people may not take what she says seriously or fully understand the beautiful truth behind her words, but it has become an innate certainty in our lives and I am always the first one to explain to people just how right she is.
It took my husband and I seven years of marriage before we started thinking about having kids. I was 35 by then and already nervous about potential complications due to my age. I had no preconceived notions about how long it would take to get pregnant, but after three short months of trying, and three positive pregnancy tests, the good news was confirmed. Cameron and I were having a baby! Like most new mothers, I experienced a whirlwind of emotions. I was shocked, excited and nervous all at the same time. A thousand questions ran through my mind every day, mostly about what kind of mom I would be. I would rub my growing belly and get excited just imagining our sweet little baby growing inside.
I was very lucky in that I had an incredibly smooth pregnancy. Whenever anyone asked me, I told them I was willing to do it ten times over! Unfortunately, my luck didn't last. Lily was breech and I was shocked and scared to learn that she would have to be delivered by emergency C-section. I tried to see the brighter side, though, and I remember joking that, “At least she'll have a round head!”
I was completely overcome with emotion when I got to hold Lily for the first time. I'm still astounded by how much I already loved her in that moment. I knew I would do everything possible to provide constant love, protection and happiness in her life. In fact, in that moment, I knew that my life would forever be about her. It was the most perfect moment I could have imagined. Little did I know there was a terrible storm just over the horizon.
A little more than three months after Lily was born, I got the earth-shattering diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma. My doctor told me there was no time to waste, and I had to begin treatment immediately. If I hesitated, I would probably have only 15 months to live. How was this possible? I was overcome with shock and I couldn't imagine leaving Lily without a mother and Cameron without a wife. My head spun as Cameron listened to the doctor's recommendations and chose the best option for my treatment. I would go to Boston to meet with one of the world's leading mesothelioma experts.
My mesothelioma treatment was radical. My entire left lung was removed, along with the lining of my heart and diaphragm. I spent an agonizing 18 days in the hospital, then another two weeks at an outpatient facility in Boston. After that, I spent two months recovering at my parents' home in South to spend time with Lily again. When we finally returned home to Minnesota, I was ready to face the necessary chemotherapy and radiation treatments. I knew it would be difficult, but I would have done anything and made any personal sacrifice to gain more precious time with Lily.
Chemotherapy and radiation treatments meant that I would be away from Lily for an entire month, and it was the hardest, longest month of my life. However, it was this adorable little girl of mine who needed a mommy that constantly gave me the courage to face each new, threatening obstacle in my treatment.
Mesothelioma is a cancer that kills 95% of those diagnosed. Knowing that my little girl needed me is what gave me the strength to beat the odds, to keep fighting and to face each new challenge with hope. Today, I am cancer-free. So, when Lily tells people that she saved my life, she truly couldn't be more right. Looking back on my journey to recovery, I have no doubt that being a mother is what saved my life.