My wife has often said she can’t quite imagine what all I went through when I learned of her mesothelioma diagnosis
. I have only spoken to her once about what it was like being her caregiver and I hope this piece gives her more insight into my experience.
Three months before she was actually diagnosed with mesothelioma, we celebrated the birth of our daughter Lily. She was our first child and it was time of immense joy for us, only to be followed a long period of fear and uncertainty. I remember the very day the doctors broke the news to us that she had mesothelioma. I remember looking at my wife as she cried thinking, “How are we ever going to get through this?”
I remember feeling extremely overwhelmed and crushed by the news, I was very close to breaking down. I was only able to focus when the doctor began asking me questions about future medical decisions that needed to be made for my wife’s treatment. That was one of the first of many long days where I felt emotionally drained and overwhelmed by the decisions I would have to make regarding my wife’s treatment.
After the diagnosis, I felt enraged and full of fear. There were times where I really did not know how to properly control my anger. At times, I resorted to communicating with others in with outbursts of foul language. Over time, I learned to control my anger better. I realized that I had to be able to master my emotions in order to be strong for my wife and daughter. They needed me. I had to be strong when I was in my wife’s presence. I got really good at concealing my worries. I needed to be the supportive husband she needed.
After she was diagnosed, it became nearly impossible to complete my never-ending list of things to do. I had to take care of making the travel arrangements while caring for our daughter and the pets. In the beginning, it was very overwhelming but I would eventually become better at prioritizing the most important tasks. I soon learned to accept help when it was offered to me from my supportive group of friends and family. I am unsure of how we would have made it through without these wonderful people in our lives. Still, with all of the help I received I still felt overwhelmed at times.
Two months in particular were extremely difficult for us. After she had completed surgery in Boston, Heather was flown to South Dakota to be with our daughter Lily who had been staying with her parents during the surgery. She completed her recovery there with her family, and prepared for her next round of mesothelioma treatments
. During the time she was staying at her parents with our daughter, I was only able to seem them once.
One Friday after work, I had to drive 11 hours overnight in a snowstorm to see them. I was only able to sleep a few hours in the car while the plows cleared the roads. When I finally arrived Saturday morning, I was exhausted. I was only able to spend a little time that weekend with her, before I had to return home to be ready for work that Monday morning.
While it is very difficult for me to be away from my wife and daughter for such a long time, I never looked at it as time I missed with them. I realize that the decision was made out of necessity. There was no way I would have been able to care for our young daughter and maintain my work schedule at the same time, keeping our family afloat financially. I don’t regret any of the choices I made during that time. The cancer diagnosis required that we make major difficult decisions, but we regretted none of them. It was empowering to know that we could still make the right decisions.
I learned multiple invaluable lessons during this time. I learned how important it is to accept help when it is offered to you. I also learned to appreciate being able to make good decisions during trying times like these. I also see this as a test and take comfort in being able to maintain control during times of uncertainty. Through all of our struggles, Heather is still here and still healthy over six years later. I hope that our story can be a source of hope and help to those currently battling cancer.
Cameron is husband to Heather Von St. James, survivor advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, and father to Lily Rose. He, along with Heather and young Lily, had their world's turned upside down when Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, just 3 1/2 months after the birth of his only child. When faced with the very real possibility of raising Lily on his own, he fought alongside Heather in her battle with mesothelioma. It was his determination and refusal to compromise on doctors or treatments that led them to Boston to receive radical surgery from esteemed mesothelioma surgeon, David Sugarbaker. Heather continues to thrive 6 years later. Through out the next few years, while being a caregiver to Heather and dad to Lily, Cameron returned to school full time to finish his degree. He worked full time, went to school full time and graduated with high honors at the top of his class in June of 2010 with a Bachelors of Science in Information Technology. He was soon offered a position at US Bank as Network Analyst and continues to pursue his career. Like Heather, Cameron is passionate about bringing awareness to mesothelioma and the dangers of asbestos exposure. It is his hope that sharing his story will help others those battling cancer and their caregivers who provide them care and guidance in their journey. Click here to watch a video featuring Cameron and Heather speaking about her cancer experience.