Not long ago I received a comment from Cameron Von St. James. He is a caregiver for his wife Heather. He asked if he could write an article for my blog. It was during the time I was waiting to hear back about my scan so I asked to delay it for a few weeks. Now a few weeks later, here is Cameron’s article:
From Cancer Caregiver to Commencement Speaker
On November 21, 2005, my wife, Heather, was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. Immediately, I became an unprepared but determined caregiver because I knew that I had to be there for my wife and newborn daughter. Our first and only daughter had been born just over three months prior to the diagnosis. Instead of happily celebrating my daughter’s first holiday as planned, our lives spiraled into chaos as we began a long, difficult battle with cancer.
We began to learn more about mesothelioma right when we received the diagnosis. Our doctor gave us our treatment options, which consisted of a local university hospital or a regional hospital, neither of which had a developed treatment program for mesothelioma, or Boston specialist by the name of David Sugarbaker. We chose the Boston specialist. I knew that if my wife were going to have any chance of beating this awful disease, she would need the best care possible.
Over the next few months, we had to learn a whole new approach to living our lives. Before the diagnosis, we both worked full-time, and had our comfortable routines. After the diagnosis, everything became chaos. Heather couldn’t work, and I could only work part-time in order to be there for her and Lily. During my time off, I arranged travel to Boston, took care of my daughter Lily, and took my wife to her doctor’s appointments. I was overwhelmed with my responsibilities.
As hard as I tried to stay positive, I often worried about losing my wife to this cancer. Fighting this disease, I sometimes thought I would end up a broke and homeless widowed single father, and it terrified me. Some days, the thought of these undesirable events drove me to the kitchen floor in tears. I just wanted the whole experience to stop because I felt helpless, but I knew I had to remain strong for Heather. She needed me to be her rock, and the last thing she needed was to see how scared I truly was.
Help came for us when we needed it most. Heather and I were thankful for the comforting words and even financial assistance we received from family, friends, and complete strangers. Being a caregiver is difficult without help. It is stressful, and you can’t walk away from the job even if you experience fear or anger. My strongest advice to anyone else currently going through a situation like this is to accept every offer of help, whether it is big or small. I had to learn the hard way to let go of my pride and accept assistance, but take it from me, there is no room for pride in a battle with cancer.
Though it took years for our lives to return to normal after mesothelioma surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, it was worth the fight. Heather beat the odds, and she is cancer-free today, over seven years since her diagnosis.
Now, I know time is precious. I went back to school while working full time, two years after Heather’s diagnosis. My time as a caregiver taught me to cope with stress and time management skills. Even more importantly, it taught me the strength that I have inside myself and gave me the courage to pursue this dream. I graduated with high honors and was chosen to be the graduation speaker of the class. I spoke of my wife’s experience in my speech and about hope. I told my fellow graduates that, just a few years before, sitting in a doctor’s office and receiving the news that my wife had an extremely deadly cancer, I never imagined that I would ever be standing up on that stage. I told them what my wife had taught me, that within each of us is the strength to accomplish incredible, even impossible things. Lily and her mother were in the audience to cheer me on, and that was the greatest reward of all.