Becoming My Wife’s Caregiver Equipped Me for the Future

Guest Post By Cameron Von St. James

MesotheliomaNovember 21st of 2005, I heard of malignant pleural mesothelioma for the first time in my life.  My daughter Lily was three months old and my wife, Heather had been feeling ill for several weeks.  When we took Heather to the doctor, we found out she had mesothelioma, a rare and extremely deadly form of cancer.  We felt our lives falling into a stream of chaos and I felt helpless as the doctor explained the serious nature of this type of cancer.  Without hesitation, I accepted the challenge to become my wife’s caregiver, and I knew I would have to do everything in my power to see that she got better.  I could not imagine my life without Heather and I was going to fight to support her and help her win this battle no matter what.

Our doctor listed our treatment options we had available to get Heather help and we chose a specialist in Boston.  While we also had two other options for treatment that were closer to home, we wanted Heather to have an experienced mesothelioma program that would give her the absolute best chance of survival possible.  This is why we chose Dr. Sugarbaker in Boston.  Upon hearing the choices for treatment, all I had to do was glance at my wife to see the stricken look on her face.  The realization of how serious and how much of a struggle this was going to be was quickly sinking in for both of us.  I told our doctor, “We need to get to Boston quickly!”

During the months following Heather’s mesothelioma diagnosis, our lives were completely hectic.  Previous to this time, we both had been working full time.  Heather could not work now, and my work hours were dramatically reduced to just part time.  Although we lost income and we gained new expenses, we were able to manage thanks to the help of an outpouring of love from a generous community.  Family members were also incredibly supportive of us in every way.  People volunteered to make meals, babysit for us and just be there to help us out in numerous ways.  The support and love that was bestowed on us by so many people made it possible for us to continue to get Heather treated without our household and our finances completely falling apart.

While we did receive a lot of support, there were also times when I was simply overwhelmed with all of the tasks before me.  I tried my best to stay strong for Heather, and for Lily; but I was also exhausted, worried and stressed.  There were occasions where I just collapsed and cried for a long time.  After I regained my composure, I knew I just had to keep moving on one day at a time. Heather went through a long series of treatments that were incredibly difficult on her, but she also remained strong and as positive as possible. I will forever be impressed by her strength and courage throughout this difficult time.
If anyone finds himself in a position where he is a caregiver for someone, I just want to stress the importance of taking help from people.  It is common for many people to try to handle everything on their own, but being a caregiver is also about accepting support when it is offered.  Not only will it help to make your load a bit lighter, it will also ripple throughout your family and to the one you are caring for.

It took several years for my life to get back to a steady and consistent routine.  Looking back now on what we went through, I am amazed at how well we met the challenge that faced us.  Even though at the time it did not feel like we were coping well, we managed to make it through each day to face the next one.  Despite the terrifying odds, Heather managed to beat mesothelioma.  It has been seven years since her heartbreaking diagnosis, and she remains cancer free and healthy to this day.

I went back to school to continue my education when Lily was two years old.  Through the process of being Heather’s caregiver, while also being a father and an employee, I learned I could handle much more than what I had previously thought.  This new realization about myself made me ambitious to take on more challenges.  I studied Information Technology, and when I graduated, I was the speaker for the graduation ceremony.  A few years earlier, sitting in a doctor’s office and hearing that my wife might only have months to live, I never would have imagined where my life could take me.  That was the theme of my speech that day, and Lily and her healthy, happy mother were in the audience to cheer me on.  Never give up hope, and never stop fighting for the ones you love.

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