Metro Mother Shares Rare Story of Mesothelioma and Survival

Updated: 04/18/2014 7:46 PM
Created: 04/18/2014 5:12 PM
By: Naomi Pescovitz

Though law firms often advertise about the dangers of asbestos and mesothelioma, a Roseville mom wants the public to know there is much more to the story.

Heather Von St. James was diagnosed with mesothelioma when she was 36 years old. She had a three-month-old daughter at home. Though it was supposed to be the happiest time in her life, her future changed suddenly because of the asbestos found deep in her past.

Von St. James grew up in a small town in South Dakota. She always considered herself a "daddy's girl."

"Wearing my dad’s coat felt good to me and it was something I loved to do," Von St. James said.

As a construction worker, her dad often worked on demolition or clean up jobs. His coat, car and shoes were covered daily in a dangerous dust.

"It would be crusty, like gray crusty dust on it," Von St. James said.

It was not until her mid 30's that she realized that crust had given her cancer.

"A truck parked on my chest is what it felt like. Just this weight, and I couldn't breathe, and I couldn't take a deep breath," Von St. James said.

Doctors diagnosed her with mesothelioma. She had her left lung removed and now wishes asbestos would have the same fate.

"It's still around and that's what's so frustrating. It's not banned in the United States," Von St. James said.

This month, the Minnesota Department of Health is warning against asbestos. It is found in more than 3,600 older building products like plaster, tiles and roofing.

About 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.

"It's somewhat of a rare condition that would happen but it's a really high risk and so it's the sort of risk that you don't want to take," said Scott Smith, Public Information Officer with the Minnesota Department of Health.

Despite the high risk, Von St. James is now celebrating eight years as a mother and survivor.

"I'm not going to have the victim's mentality. No matter what happens I'm always triumphant and I'm always happy with the road that I'm on," Von St. James said.

If you are demolishing or remodeling, the Minnesota Department of Health recommends getting an inspection. If asbestos is found, they advise getting it removed by a certified contractor.

To learn more about asbestos, contamination and contractors click here.

Von St. James now blogs about her experience. You can read her posts here.

Minneapolis/St. Paul

Scattered Clouds
62° | 40°
  • Feels like: 57° F
  • Wind: ESE 13mph
  • Humidity: 42%
  • Tue Partly cloudy
    62° | 43°
  • Wed Windy with times of sun and clouds
    70° | 44°
  • Thu Partly cloudy and windy
    56° | 34°
  • Fri Mostly sunny
    46° | 30°