New scholarship for Iowa State students who’ve been impacted by cancer

Emelie Knobloch

Through hardship and sickness, Heather Von St. James has found a way to provide hope for others who have had difficult times.

Twin Cities resident Von St. James has become an advocate for a new $4,000 scholarship that is now available for students whose life has been impacted by cancer.

The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance will be awarding a scholarship to one student each semester.

Students who have battled cancer or have a parent, sibling, immediate family member or close friend who has battled or is battling cancer are eligible to apply for the scholarship.

“Three-and-a-half months after my first and only child was born, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma,” Von St. James said.

Malignant pleural mesothelioma, the most common of the four types of mesothelioma, causes a thin layer of tissue to develop around the lungs. It is caused mainly by the inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibers, according to the Pleural Mesothelioma Center.

The inhaled fibers can become lodged in the lining around the lungs. The fibers accumulate in the body and can ultimately lead to cancer.

Von St. James’ doctors estimated she had 15 months to live.

“I was referred to a specialist in Boston at Brigham and Women’s Hospital,” Von St. James said. “It was there that I found hope.”

In February 2006, Von St. James had her left lung and all surrounding tissue, the left side of her diaphragm, the lining of her heart and her sixth rib removed.

“My diaphragm and the lining of my heart were replaced with surgical Gore-Tex,” she said. “Three months after surgery, I underwent four sessions of chemotherapy and 30 sessions of radiation.”

Von St. James has been cancer-free ever since.

Her husband Cameron inspired her to start the scholarship through his dedication in finishing his degree.

“He saw everything I went through in my fight against cancer and knew that he could tough out finishing his degree and working full-time,” she said.

Cameron returned to school two years after Heather finished treatment.

“He would get up at 6 a.m. every morning for his full-time job, would go to class until 10 p.m. after that, then stay up until 1 a.m. doing homework every night,” Heather said.

Cameron graduated with honors at the top of his class and was asked to give the commencement speech at the graduation ceremony.

“A cancer diagnosis is devastating, emotionally and financially,” Heather said. “We are hoping this will ease someone’s burden.”

Heather said her goal for the scholarship is for it to grow year after year. She hopes whoever gets it is inspired to go into medicine or research and in turn be able to give back.

“The medical bills that cancer patients face are tremendous,” said Kelsey McCarty, co-president of Iowa State’s chapter of Colleges Against Cancer. “To be provided help for college tuition by someone else will greatly help that student and their family.”

McCarty said students could get involved in the fight against cancer on campus through Colleges Against Cancer.

“We are an organization comprised of passionate and driven people who all want to be apart of the generation that ends cancer,” McCarty said.

McCarty said Colleges Against Cancer’s main mission is to raise money and awareness for the American Cancer Society.

“Our main event is the spring the Iowa State-Story County Relay For Life,” McCarty said.

Relay For Life will be March 6 and 7 at Lied Recreation Center.

All essays and videos for the scholarship should be submitted no later than Dec. 1 for the spring 2015 semester and March 31, 2015 for the fall 2015 semester.

Students can find more information about the scholarship and the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance at their website.