How I Learned to Be a Caregiver After My Wife’s Diagnosis – a Guest Post
Cameron Von St. James has his own experience with cancer, from the caregiver perspective. I am not sure that we always recognize the contributions and impact cancer has on everyone, not just the patient.
I hope you read his story and appreciate it as much as I did. Anissa
How I Learned to Be a Caregiver After My Wife’s Diagnosis
On November 21, 2005, my wife, Heather, was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, and I had to learn to be her caregiver. My prior experience did not prepare me to care for her, and I was overwhelmed with her diagnosis and caring for our new daughter Lily, who was born just three months prior. Instead of the joyful first holidays we planned with Lily, we spent this time discussing my wife’s diagnosis, preparing for treatment, and learning how to manage the chaos.
As a caregiver, I first learned about the Heather’s diagnosis and condition. The doctor informed us of our treatment options, which included a local university hospital, a regional hospital and specialist, Dr. David Sugarbaker, in Boston. My wife was silent and in shock, she couldn’t make the decision, and her eyes pleaded for help. Without missing a beat, I looked at the doctor and said, “Get us to Boston!”
Our lives were in utter chaos, and daily routines were interrupted. My wife could not work, and I was only working part-time. My daily life consisted of working, taking my wife to the doctor, making travel arrangements and taking care of my daughter, our house, our pets – the list went on and on. I was overwhelmed as the task list grew longer. I couldn’t help but imagine a scenario where I lost Heather and ended up a broke, homeless widower raising a daughter who would never really know her mother. These thoughts killed me, and on some bad days I sobbed uncontrollably, but I tried to remain strong for her and never let her see me in these weak moments.
We felt blessed to have help from friends, family, and even complete strangers. These people offered us comfort and even financial support, which we desperately needed. We urge people to accept any help they are offered because it is the only way to make it through. I learned the hard way that there is no room for pride when a loved one’s life is on the line.
Being a caregiver is not easy, and it is a job you cannot quit. It is important not to become overwhelmed with anger or grief. Accept the bad days as they come, but never give up hope and learn from every experience. Many days, I longed for normalcy to return. Heather endured intense mesothelioma surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation before there was light at the end of the tunnel. Luckily, seven years later, Heather is cancer-free and healthy as ever.
Through this ordeal, I learned to balance stress and time commitments, and two years after Heather’s diagnosis, I returned to school to earn my degree. I graduated with high honors. I gave the graduation speech, but I never imagined I would be at that point given everything that we had been through. I learned to never give up and to always believe in myself. We can accomplish so much when we believe. Heather and Lily cheered me on from the audience, and that was the greatest reward of all.
As a cancer patient and survivor, to hear the incredible story of Heather and Cameron is one of hope. Thank you for sharing your family with us Cameron!