What I Learned Being a Caregiver for My Wife by Cameron Von St. James

We all need some inspiration from time to time! So I decided to dedicate the month of April to “Overcoming Circumstances” on my blog.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would love to introduce you to Cameron Von St. James.

On November 21, 2005, my wife was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, and it was a day I will never forget. On this day, I took the role of caregiver in my wife’s life, and I was not prepared. Three months prior to Heather’s mesothelioma diagnosis, we celebrated the birth of our first child, Lily. When we received the diagnosis, I thought we would be celebrating our first Thanksgiving and Christmas with Lily, but instead our world was in chaos over planning Heather’s treatment.

As her caregiver, I had to help make decisions about Heather’s cancer treatment. We had three choices laid out for us by Heather’s physician: the local university hospital, a specialist in Boston, or a regional hospital that was very good, but lacked a specific mesothelioma program. My wife was still so in shock and terrified about the diagnosis that I had to make the decision myself, and emphatically, I told the doctor, “Get us to Boston!”  I felt that seeing a mesothelioma specialist would be the best course of action for Heather, and I wanted her to get the very best treatment available.

The two months following the diagnosis were chaotic. In the past, Heather and I worked full time. After her diagnosis, she was not able to work, and I could only work part time while caring for her and Lily. I was overwhelmed with responsibilities such as spending time at my wife’s doctor’s appointments, making travel arrangements, going to Boston for treatments and providing care for Lily.  The list of tasks on my plate grew and grew by the day, and I often felt as if I would crumble under the pressure.

I also remember thinking we are going to end up broke, with our drastically reduced income and our ever-expanding bills.  This only added to my immense stress.  As hard as I tried to stay positive, I often had terrible thoughts that my wife might die, and I would be left a homeless widower with a baby to raise all on my own. When I was faced with this type of fear, I would lie down on my kitchen floor and cry my eyes out. Even though I felt helpless, I never allowed Heather to see me in these moments of weakness. I wanted to remain strong for her, and I knew that the last thing she needed was to see my fears.

Without the help of family, friends, and even strangers, I would not have been able to do it. They offered us everything from desperately needed financial assistance to kind, comforting words. We are so grateful for all the help we received, and we advise everyone who has cancer to accept any help offered.  It took me a while to let go of my pride and start accepting these offers, but I learned that there is no room for pride in a cancer fight. No matter how big or small, it all helps, and will remind you that you are not alone.

I learned that being a caregiver is filled with uncertainty and stress. It may be the most difficult challenge of your life that you cannot walk away from. You will have bad days, but don’t give up hope. Use your resources to help you remain sane.

It took many years for life to return to normal after Heather’s surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Despite the terrible diagnosis and frightening odds against her, Heather battled through and remained strong and determined while doing it.  Today, over seven years later, she is healthy and cancer free.  Mesothelioma is no longer a part of our lives, and we hope that by sharing our story of hope and success, we can help others currently battling cancer today. 

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