This is a wonderful posting from Cameron Von St. James ….
“How my Family Stuck Together During a Cancer Diagnosis
My wife, Heather, has mentioned to me several times that she cannot imagine what I went through as her husband and caregiver after she was diagnosed with cancer. I hope that by sharing my story here, I can help shed more light on what its like to be a caregiver for a loved one with cancer.
Our first and only child, Lily, a beautiful little girl, was born just three months before Heather was diagnosed. Our lives were filled with the excitement and joy that comes with being new parents. We were optimistic and hopeful about what the future would bring for our new little family. But just three months later, all of that happiness would be stripped away from us in an instant. Heather’s fatigue and shortness of breath, symptoms which we chalked up to the stresses of being new parents, continued to get worse, and a few doctors visits later we were given the terrible news: my wife had mesothelioma.
You can imagine that I was overwhelmed, and on the verge of a breakdown. I couldn’t imagine how we would never get through it. When we were questioned about my wife’s future medical choices and treatment options, I quickly was brought back to reality. It would be the first of many times over the coming months that we would be forced to make impossible decisions in the face of emotional turmoil.
I was filled with anger, fear, and rage, and I often used profanity because I was so upset. Angry outbursts at others were commonplace for me, and I couldn’t help but lash out in an attempt to vent my feelings. Over time, I learned to control my emotions because I needed to be strong for my daughter and wife. I realized that my anger and fear were not helping the situation in the least, and my wife needed me to be strong. From that point on, I did my very best to be a stable, strong source of hope and optimism for my family.
After Heather’s diagnosis, I inherited a whole new list of responsibilities as her caregiver. My to-do list seemed never-ending, and it contained items such as caring for our daughter, caring for pets and also arranging work and travel, medical appointments, taking care of our home, etc. Even though I tried to prioritize, I was still overwhelmed on a daily basis. I began to realize that I could not do everything on my own, and I had to begin accepting the many offers of help and support that were coming to us from our loving friends and family. Without the help of these people, I don’t know how I would have ever made it through this time.
There was a two-month period following her cancer surgery that was especially difficult for me. Heather underwent a highly invasive mesothelioma surgery in Boston, and we sent Lily to stay with Heather’s parents in South Dakota during the operation. As soon as she was well enough to travel, Heather left Boston to join Lily at her parents’ house. She was preparing for the next phase her treatment, and needed constant care during her recovery. I had to work full time to keep a roof over our heads, so I could not provide Heather with the care that she needed. We made the very difficult decision to be apart for the next two months while she recovered, and in those entire two months apart I was able to see my family only once.
One Friday after work, I drove 11 hours to see Heather and Lily. A late season snowstorm tried to prevent me from getting there, and I had to stop for a few hours and sleep on the side of the road while the plows did their best to clear a path. I finally got there on Saturday morning, and was able to spend a wonderful day and a half with them before driving another 11 hours to be back to work on Monday. This time was treasured because being away from them was difficult. I don’t look back on the experience with regret, but I recognized that cancer forced us to make difficult decisions.
I learned a lot during this time period. I learned to remain optimistic despite the overwhelming odds. I learned to prioritize and, I learned how to ask for and accept help from others in a time of need. Finally, I learned to never regret the tough decisions that cancer forced us to make. Rather, we learned to take comfort in these decisions, no matter how difficult, as they gave us some level of control over a situation that oftentimes seemed completely beyond our control. Even though the odds were against her, Heather is still alive and healthy. I hope that by sharing our story, we can inspire hope in others currently battling cancer today. “