Forward (by D. Duffy)
One of the things that we have always wanted to do with the Half Fund was to be a platform to not only educate about cancer, but also to serve as a platform for others to share their stories. This is our first shared blog. It is by a gentleman named Cameron Von St. James, who tells the story of the bravest person he knows: his wife Heather. The story is amazing and inspiring, and we just had to share this with you.
How I Managed My Challenge as a Caregiver
by Cameron Von St. James
On November 21, 2005, my wife, Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a rare and very deadly type of cancer. It is a day that I will never forget. On this day, I became a caregiver for my wife.
I have to say that we experienced a range of emotion during that time. We went from being filled with joy after our first daughter Lily was born in August, to being saddened with grief over Heather’s cancer diagnosis. I thought that my wife and I would be spending our first Christmas celebrating with Lily. Instead, we were planning how we would pay for my wife’s healthcare and which doctor we would choose. Our lives were in complete chaos.
When I became a caregiver, it came with immense responsibility. I took it on from the moment when we left the doctor’s office. Our physician informed us about mesothelioma and the options available for treatment. We were given three options: a regional hospital, a local hospital, or a Boston mesothelioma specialist, Dr. David Sugarbaker. When I looked to my wife to determine which doctor she preferred, she just sat there in shock and silence.
I saw the look on her face pleading for help, and I knew I had to take control. I said to the doctor, “Get us to Boston!” It was a difficult decision, but I knew that Heather would need the best care possible, and I had to believe that this specialist could offer that.
Over the next two months, our lives were in utter chaos. Our daily routines were no longer organized, and we were overwhelmed. Prior to the diagnosis, we both had been working full-time. After the diagnosis, Heather could not work at all, and I could only work part-time. This put a strain on our finances, which only added to our stress. We had a laundry-list of things to accomplish, but I had to handle a majority of the tasks by myself. I spent time taking my wife to her doctor’s appointments and making travel arrangements to get to Boston, as well as caring for Lily.
Needless to say, I was overwhelmed, but I faced my fears and pushed through. I was terrified that my wife would die from cancer. I often found myself on the kitchen floor crying my eyes out. I just wanted the whole situation to go away. However, I always kept these weak moments private. I never wanted Heather to know how scared I was, I had to be her source of stability and be strong for her.
Heather and I were lucky to have help from family, friends and even total strangers. We were offered comforting words and even financial assistance. We were so thankful for all the help we received. I learned a lot from the experience and one bit of advice that I can tell other people is that you must accept help from other people. If someone offers you help, then accept the help graciously. Do not be too proud to accept help, it will take some of the burden off of you and remind you that you are not alone.
Being a caregiver is not easy. On any given day, you will feel stressed, uncertain, and you will live your life in utter chaos. It is not a job you can walk away from, and it is one of the toughest challenges that you will ever face. To get through this, you cannot let your emotions consume you. It will be difficult, but you can allow yourself to have bad days. No one can be their best at all times. Never give up even if it gets difficult. Then, use every resource that you have to remain sane and navigate your way through.
Heather’s cancer does not typically come with the best prognosis, but despite the odds she managed to beat the disease after surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Now, it has been seven years since her diagnosis, and I am thankful that she remains cancer-free to this day.
I learned that time is precious. Two years after Heather’s mesothelioma diagnosis, I was working full-time, caring for Heather and two year old Lily. I also went back to school to study Information Technology and pursue my dream of earning a degree.
I had to learn how to manage stress and balance time while managing my wife’s cancer. This experience prepared me to go back to school. Because of the experience, I managed to graduate with high honors, and I was the graduation speaker of my class. My graduation speech was all about my wife’s cancer battle, and my experience as a caregiver. I learned to never give up hope and that there is so much that each of us can accomplish if we believe in ourselves and never stop fighting for the ones we love.