Recently after reading one of my blog posts, Cameron Von St. James reached out to me with a story of his own about his wife and how he became a caregiver. It’s such a touching story that I am proud to share with you all. And please, feel free to share with your friends & family so that way we can spread the word out, the word of love.
Fighting Cancer with Hope
I will never forget the day my wife, Heather, was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. On that day, November 21, 2005, she became a cancer patient, and I became a caregiver. Nothing in my life had prepared me to do the job. Just over three months prior to her diagnosis, our daughter and only child, Lily, was born. In our minds, we pictured spending the season preparing for her first Christmas and celebrating the holidays with our loved ones. Instead, our lives changed forever.
The reality of being a caregiver set in before we even left the physician’s office that day. We learned a little about mesothelioma from the doctor, who also referred us to a specialist. We had three choices: a regional hospital that lacked a mesothelioma program, the local university hospital and a specialist in Boston. My wife sat in shocked silence, not expressing interest in any of the choices. She was in shock, unable to comprehend all the information being thrown at us. I, however, did not hesitate, and told our doctor we would see the specialist in Boston.
For the following two months, the cancer shattered our daily routines. Before the diagnosis, Heather and I were both employed full-time. After the diagnosis, I dropped down to part-time, and she was unable to work. I spent my free time making travel arrangements, taking my wife to appointments, caring for Lily and traveling to Boston. My ever-growing to-do list started to overwhelm me. I was afraid Heather would die from cancer and that I would find myself a widower, raising my daughter alone. I felt helpless but did my best to become a rock for Heather’s sake.
Luckily, friends, family and even strangers stepped up to help us. The biggest piece of advice that I could give to others going through a similar situation is to accept help whenever it is offered. There is no room for pride when there is a life on the line. Members of our community offered financial assistance, love and comforting words. We will never forget these miracle helpers. They reminded us that we were not alone and helped lighten our load.
Being a caregiver is undeniably difficult. It was the hardest challenge I ever faced, one that I could not simply walk away from. If you are a caregiver, do not let emotions like anger or fear take you hostage. Give yourself permission to have bad days, but never stop hoping and use all the resources you can to keep your sanity.
Our lives did not return to normal for years. Heather beat mesothelioma through radiation, surgery and chemotherapy, and she remains cancer free after seven years. The time and stress management skills I learned as a caregiver helped me succeed when I went back to school two years later, and I graduated with high honors. I even spoke at my graduation, and Lily and Heather cheered me on from the audience. Thanks to our experience with cancer, I learned that I am capable of more than I ever imagined and to never give up hope.
Cameron Von St. James