Not long ago I was contacted by a young man from the USA who had read this blog and saw similarities in my cancer experience and that of his lovely wife. Against all odds and with his devotion, she is surviving too – and he wanted to spread the word by writing an article for my blog, which you will find below…
Guest Blog by Cameron Von St. James
What I Learned Caring for My Cancer-Stricken Wife
On November 21, 2005, my wife Heather and I saw our lives change forever when doctors diagnosed her with malignant pleural mesothelioma. I wasn’t ready for it, but I quickly become a caregiver for a cancer patient. Just over three months earlier, Heather had given birth to our only child, Lily. We had expected that this holiday season would be spent making Lily’s first Christmas special, but instead we had to shift our focus to fighting cancer.
When the doctor told us about mesothelioma and told us our options, we were overwhelmed. Our doctor told us that we could visit the area’s university hospital, a top-notch regional hospital that didn’t have a focused mesothelioma program, or a doctor in Boston, Dr. David Sugarbaker, who was a renowned mesothelioma specialist. Heather was still too shocked and terrified to even think about these options, but I immediately told the doctor that we would go to Boston. This was the beginning of my role as caregiver.
In the following months, our lives became chaotic. My wife and I had both worked full time before she was diagnosed. Now, Heather couldn’t work, and I switched to part time. Besides work, I set up travel arrangements, took my wife to doctor’s appointments, took care of Lily and traveled to Boston regularly. While fearing that cancer would take my wife, I was also overwhelmed at my huge new list of duties. I wondered if I would end up homeless and taking care of our daughter alone. More than once, I curled up in a ball on the floor and sobbed, wishing these problems would just disappear. Despite having these moments of weakness, I never let Heather see me this way. I knew that the last thing she needed was to see my fears.
Friends, family and even strangers helped Heather and me with donations and emotional comfort. I’ll never forget all of their help, and I want to tell anyone diagnosed with cancer or caring for a cancer patient to take any help that is offered. There is no room for pride or stubbornness in a cancer battle, as I learned the hard way. Offers of help will prop you up and give you less to worry about.
Caring for a cancer patient is hard. It may be the most difficult thing you have ever experienced, and you can’t just quit. You can’t give yourself up to negative emotions, but you have to accept them during this time. You have to use all your resources to your advantage. Above all else, never, ever allow yourself to give up hope.
After years, our lives have returned to normal. Heather survived her cancer thanks to months of mesothelioma treatments including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy under the care of Dr. Sugarbaker. She remains cancer free to this day.
This experience showed me how important persistence is and how precious time is. Two years after Heather was diagnosed, I returned to school to study information technology while working full time and caring for my wife and 2-year old daughter.
The experience of handling all this stress while caring for my wife as she fought cancer prepared me to return to school. After graduating with honors, I was selected to speak at my graduation, and told my fellow graduates that just a couple of years before, I wouldn’t ever have thought I’d be there in that moment. I told them what I’d learned through my family’s battle with cancer: that within each of us is the strength to accomplish incredible, unbelievable things, if we just believe in ourselves and never give up hope. Heather and Lily were in the audience to cheer me on, and that was the best reward I could have hoped for.