There is a whole generation of young women (late 20’s and 30’s) getting cancer — simply because they were “daddy’s girls” at age ten.

These daddies* worked with asbestos in the days when the public didn’t know it was scary dangerous. The fine asbestos dust hitched a ride home with them on their coats, their boots, and their clothing.

Daughters (and we don’t know why it isn’t happening to sons, too) slipped on these same coats to feed the rabbits, they slipped on the boots to check the mail, and they worked next to Dad in the garage or the barn or the shed. And as they played and walked and did chores, they breathed in the dust.

Mesothelioma (cancer) lies in wait 20 to 30 years before suddenly manifesting itself physically. Otherwise healthy young women and their young families are suddenly and unexpectedly faced with a grim diagnosis and a long journey of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. And it is 100% preventable.

This was the story I heard sitting next to Heather Von St. James on a warm day in August, while I watched my own “daddy’s girl” playing on the playground in front of us.

Heather was one of those “daddy’s girls.” She gave birth to her daughter in August of 2005. The cancer was diagnosed in November, and Heather was given just 15 short months to live.

Heather and her husband learned of a specialist in Boston and on February 2, 2006, Heather was in Boston to have her lung removed.

And here Heather sits next to me, cancer free, seven years later. We spoke of faith, and God’s provision in the darkest times. We spoke of Heather’s second chance at life and her determination to spread awareness. We spoke of her desire to be an encourager for others facing the same journey, to be a beacon of hope in the midst of terrible news.heather von st james

Heather has an incredible story, and I’ve only just shared a tiny portion of her journey. She has been interviewed for national publications, she has written stories for international news outlets — she is speaking to groups across the country. She is spreading hope and information so that others facing this diagnosis will have more information, more advice, and more stories of surviving this terrible disease than were available in 2006.

September 26th is mesothelioma awareness day. You can read more about Heather and mesothelioma here:

If you are a fan of the TODAY show, tune in on September 26th — Heather and her friends will be standing on the plaza with their signs in the hopes that Al Roker will put them on TV.

And, just as Heather found the courage and determination to share her experience with mesothelioma to encourage others, perhaps there is something in your own life that can be used to encourage others, if only you would speak about it.

Lord, thank you for Heather’s courage and willingness to share and encourage others about mesothelioma. Bless her as she is in New York this week. And for the rest of us – the ones with something to share that would help another – give us courage to stand up and speak out. Give us the courage to be a light on the hill. Amen.    


*Although some men later developed mesothelioma, Heather’s father never did.