Guest Blog by Cameron Von St. James
In November of 2005, my wife, Heather, learned that she had malignant pleural mesothelioma. When we learned about her disease, I became her primary caregiver. Instead of preparing for our three-month-old daughter's first Christmas, our lives soon fell apart as we began down a difficult road to save Heather’s life.
My role as caregiver began before we left the doctor's office. The doctor told us that my wife would have to see a specialist for her cancer, and he gave us three options. My wife was unable to make a decision, too overwhelmed by fear and shock, so my first decision as caregiver was to get treatment from a specialist in Boston. There was a world renowned doctor there who was known for his treatment of this disease, and all I could do was hope that he would be able to save my wife.
In the next few months, our lives were in chaos. Both Heather and I worked full time before she was diagnosed, but she had to quit working after the diagnosis. I cut my hours to part time so I could have time to take care of Heather and our daughter Lily, to her appointments and make arrangements to go to Boston.
I quickly got overwhelmed by everything I needed to do. I was constantly scared that my wife could die from this disease. On top of that, our new financial burdens of treatment and travel costs, coupled with our decreased income added even more stress to the equation. Several times, the pressure brought me to tears. I wanted the disease to go away, and I felt helpless. I never let Heather see me when I broke down, however, I knew she needed me to be strong.
Luckily, we had a lot of help from family and friends. Even strangers offered us help. Their words of encouragement and financial help got us through this time. One piece of advice I have for caregivers is to never turn down an offer for help. You aren't alone, and it is right to ask for help. Humility is a sign of strength, not weakness!
Being the primary caregiver for someone is not an easy task. Your life will be stressful and chaotic while your loved one struggles. You can't ever walk away from it or get a break. You will have bad days once in a while, but don't give up hope.
Our lives didn't get back to normal for several years after the diagnosis. My wife had mesothelioma surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to fight the cancer. It's been seven years, and she is in remission. She remains happy and healthy to this day, and has been able to watch our baby girl grow up into a beautiful young lady.
The last few years have taught me to appreciate the time we have. Two years after the diagnosis, I went back to school for the career I had always wanted. After dealing with the stress of being a caregiver and learning how to balance my time, I was prepared to go back to school while working and raising my daughter. I ended up graduating with honors. Being a caregiver can prepare you for any challenge in life, and as long as you never give up hope and always keep fighting for the ones you love, you may find that you are capable of accomplishing more than you ever thought possible.
Guest post by Cameron Von St. James. Read more at his Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.