Today I am pleased to present a guest post from a fellow blogger – Cameron Von St. James – whose wife Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma back in 2005, at the age of 36, only three months after giving birth to their daughter Lily. The fact that she is still alive today, over 7 years later, offers hope to all of us facing a terminal illness. And reminds us to NEVER give up hope!
Both Heather and Cameron are regular bloggers on the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog. Their story is amazing. And I am happy to share a few of Cameron’s words about his experience as a caregiver and husband to a fellow cancer warrior and survivor.
Peace and love, – T
Lessons Learned the Hard Way
My wife often wonders what it was like for me when she was diagnosed with cancer. I remember the day she was diagnosed with mesothelioma. I remember seeing the tears well up in her eyes and fall down her cheeks as I wondered how we would get through something like this. Heather was diagnosed only three months after giving birth to our daughter, Lily. Our lives went from complete joy and happiness, full excitement about our little family’s future, to anger, fear and confusion in an instant.
I was overwhelmed with emotion and on the verge of breaking down when the doctor brought me back to reality. He talked about the many medical decisions we would be asked to make while experiencing these emotions. I realized that this moment would be the first of many times we would be forced to make impossible decisions while facing unimaginable emotional upheaval.
I was so angry and scared at first that I began lashing out and communicating with people using profanity. I couldn’t help it. I was angry at the world for putting my family in this cruel and unfair situation, but I quickly realized that this attitude was not going to help us. I needed to change and provide my family with a sense of stability and hope. I wanted to be strong for Heather and Lily. I wanted to be Heather’s rock, and I wanted to be her source of optimism. I was able to do it, eventually, but it wasn’t easy.
My list of things to do was a mile long after the diagnosis. I was so overwhelmed with my job, taking care of Heather, Lily, our home, our pets, and making travel arrangements that I wondered how I would get through it all. Fortunately, we are very blessed to be surrounded by people who love and care for us, and they offered to help. I was still overwhelmed with the entire situation, but I was able to prioritize what I could and accept all the help that was offered and get through it. I was very lucky, and I will forever be grateful to each and every one of the people who helped us through.
The most difficult part for me was being apart from my wife and daughter for two months. Heather flew to South Dakota to stay with her parents immediately after her extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery in Boston. Lily was already there with Heather’s parents during the operation. She and Lily spent the next two months there, while I remained at home to work. There was no way I could work and care for my wife and daughter at the same time while Heather recovered from her surgery and prepared to start radiation and chemotherapy. I don’t look back at that time with regret, however. As hard as it was to be away from them, I knew that it was the best thing I could do for my family.
I saw Heather and Lily only once those two months. It was a Friday night when I decided to get in the car and make the 11-hour drive to see them. I drove through a snowstorm, stopping to sleep in my car for a few hours while the plows did their best to clear the roads. I spent all day with them, exhausted but happy, on Saturday and then got back into my car on Sunday to make the 11 hour drive home. I had to be at work on Monday morning.
I learned something important during this time. I learned that I am very blessed to have so much help and support from our loving friends and family. We also learned not to regret or second-guess any of the tough choices that cancer forced us to make, but to take comfort in the fact that we retained the ability to make choices at all. Heather’s been well for more than six years now, and I can only hope that my words will help someone else in the same position.
– Cameron Von St. James