My time as a cancer caregiver
By Cameron Von St. James
Cameron Von St. James is an experienced caregiver for a loved one with advanced illness, in this case, his wife, Heather.
My wife is a cancer survivor. Seven years ago, she was diagnosed with a rare lung cancer called mesothelioma. Ever since then, she has devoted much of her time to sharing her story with others currently fighting cancer. I realized that my story as a caregiver could also be very beneficial to those caring for those cancer fighters. The journey can feel very lonely, so I hope that others can be comforted by reading my story.
When my wife was diagnosed with mesothelioma, we had a three-month-old baby girl, Lily. I cannot describe the shock and devastation that we felt when we heard the words, “You have cancer.” I saw my wife’s tears, and I had no idea how I was going to help her through this terrible time.
Initially, I was filled with rage and anger. The only words that came out of my mouth were profanity, and I constantly lashed out at others for no reason. However, I began to realize how selfish I was being. The last thing that my wife needed was to see just how scared I really was. I knew I needed to learn to control myself. I finally got it together for my wife and baby girl, and from then on I did my very best to be nothing but a strong source of hope and optimism for my family.
When my wife started her medical treatment, my to-do list was overwhelming. My days were filled with going to work, running errands, taking care of my wife and daughter and keeping our friends and relatives informed. On top of that we had countless doctors appointments and travel arrangements to make, so needless to say it was exhausting. We were blessed to be surrounded by people who wanted to help, and I learned very quickly that I could not do everything on my own.
It was incredibly difficult to have to spend time away from my wife and baby daughter. My wife underwent a major surgery in Boston called an extrapleural pneumonectomy, and during the operation we sent Lily to stay with Heather’s parents in South Dakota. As soon as Heather was well enough to travel, she went to join Lily at her parents’ house, while I went home to work. Heather and Lily would stay there for the next two months while she recovered and prepared for chemotherapy and radiation, and in the whole time we were apart I was able to visit them only once. Deciding to be away from my family was an incredibly difficult decision, but looking back, I know it was the best option for us at the time.
Caring for my wife with cancer taught me many important lessons. I learned that there is nothing wrong with asking others for help and that there is nothing noble about trying to do everything on your own. I also learned to appreciate that we had the ability to make choices, even though many of the choices that we had to make were difficult. They gave us some small amount of control over a situation which all too often seemed completely out of our control.
More than seven years after the diagnosis, Heather is healthy and cancer-free, despite the odds against her. She has been able to see our little Lily grow into a beautiful girl, now in second grade! We hope that by sharing our story, others can find comfort and inspiration for their own fights with cancer.