Saying Good-Bye to Punxsutawney Phil

Good-bye, Punxsutawney Phil

By Heather Von St. James, Guest Blogger

Throughout my life, I have been called an eternal optimist. I have always believed that the glass is half full, not half empty. I am blessed with the ability to see the best in any situation. But my optimism was sorely tested on November 21, 2005, when I heard the three words that no one ever wants to hear: You have cancer. I was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a life-threatening form of cancer, just three-and-a-half months after the birth of my precious baby girl. I was only 36 years old.

When you are diagnosed with cancer, you have two choices. You can curse God, ask “Why me?”, and spend your time immersed in bitterness and self-pity, or, you can choose to accept the diagnosis and get ready for the fight for your life. I chose the second option, and I have never looked back. I was determined to make the best of this situation, to fight as hard as I could, both for myself and for my child, and to use my positivity to help others along the way.

My tumor removal surgery was scheduled for February 2, 2006, Groundhog’s Day, so naturally I named my tumour Punxsutawney Phil. Mesothelioma treatment is grueling and aggressive, so as a family we needed something to lighten up the mood: This was as good an idea as any. And on that day in February, almost six years ago, one of my lungs was removed. Now, every year, the first weekend in February is cause for celebration in my family. We don’t celebrate Groundhog’s Day: In our home, it’s Lungleavin’ Day, and the day we said good-bye to Punxsutawney Phil. At our Lungleavin’ Day party, we celebrate the valuable life lessons that are learned through difficult circumstances. It is a celebration of overcoming fear, of hope, and of the overwhelming strength of the human spirit.

Most cancer survivors will tell you that cancer is a double-edged sword. It is both devastating and life-affirming. I truly believe that I am a better person thanks to my cancer journey. By refusing to become a victim, I eliminated much of the fear that accompanied my diagnosis. I am proud of the optimism I maintained and that, even in this terrible situation, I was able to find and appreciate the good.

Very soon after my diagnosis, I determined that I wanted to help other mesothelioma patients find hope in their difficult days. My positive attitude was encouraged by my incredible mesothelioma doctor, who is the world’s leading specialist on this disease. Throughout my journey, I have met some of the finest human beings on the planet. Cancer warriors are tough, committed and passionate. We are wives, mothers, husbands and fathers. Our common diagnosis has bound us together, forming sweet relationships that will last a lifetime. I would not have the privilege of knowing any of these fine people if it were not for my cancer diagnosis. Although my journey was not something I would have chosen, my life now has more purpose and direction. I want to share my story with others so they can realize that there is hope in life’s toughest situations. I am determined to continue to remain optimistic and pass that optimism along to other mesothelioma patients.

As for me, life today is pretty much what I would consider normal. I am now a stay at home mom. I get my daughter up and off to school, I volunteer at school—in my daughter’s class, for the PTA, and wherever else I’m needed. I’m head over heels in love with my husband, I shop too much, and I probably don’t clean my house as much as I should, but I never, ever take life for granted. I strive to live a full and happy life :)

Heather Von St. James is a guest blogger for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on, please refer to the Submissions guidelines and send me your stories or ideas.

One Comment to “Saying Good-Bye to Punxsutawney Phil”

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