Foreword: Cameron contacted me asking if he could write an article for my blog about his personal experience as a caregiver for his wife who was diagnosed with a particularly deadly form of cancer – Mesothelioma. It is a story of immense heartache and struggle, yet it is also a story of hope which Cameron now wants to share with as many people as possible in the hope that it will help somebody, somewhere, who might be going through a similar experience. I am delighted to do what I can to help spread his story, and I am honoured to share that story on my blog. RML
Experiencing Life as a Cancer Caregiver
The day, November 21, 2005, is a day that will always have a place in my mind. It was on this day that my wife, Heather, was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, which is a rare and deadly type of cancer. On this day, I also took on the role as a caregiver for a person with cancer. No amount of preparation could have made me ready for this. Only three months earlier, we welcomed our daughter, Lily, into the world, and we thought we would have been celebrating our first Christmas together as a family. Instead, we were embarking on different type of journey.
That very day is when my role as a caregiver began. After the doctor explained about the different options for mesothelioma treatment, he told us we could go to the local university hospital, a regional hospital, or to Boston to see Dr. Sugarbaker, who was a renowned specialist in mesothelioma. Heather just had a blank stare on her face, and I knew she was full of shock and disbelief. I took charge of the situation and let the doctor know that it would be off to Boston for us. This was the first life or death decision of many that we would have to make on this long and arduous road.
Within the next two months, our lives completely changed; I felt chaos that I had never felt before. Our routines were totally altered. Even though we had both been working full-time before the diagnosis, Heather was not working at all, and I was working only part-time in order to be able to care for her and Lily. During the rest of my minutes and hours, I was making doctor’s appointments, putting together travel arrangements and going to Boston, and taking care of Lily. My to-do list grew as the fear in my mind also expanded. I was terrified that Heather would die, and Lily would be left without a mother. On some days, I just completely lost control of my emotions; I would lie on the kitchen floor and cry until there were no more tears. Fortunately, I was able to pick myself back up. I knew that I could never allow Heather to see this weakness; I needed to remain strong for her.
We were so incredibly blessed with all of the help we received, and it came from family members, friends and even strangers. People offered us words of comfort, and others even offered us money to help us make it through. One extremely valuable bit of advice I can impart to you other caregivers for someone with cancer is to be sure to take help when people offer it. No matter how big or small of a burden it relieves, it is one less burden for you to bear. Additionally, these offers and acceptances of help remind you that you are not alone; I cannot stress how valuable this feeling truly is.
Taking care of a person who has cancer is the most trying thing I have ever done in my life, and that fact cannot be overstated. Indeed, you are going to feel out-of-control, and you will experience so much anxiety over what is to come. Unlike some other challenges in life, you cannot just walk away if troubles start; a loved one’s life is at stake. You must not let fear and anger take you over. Let yourself have those bad days, but allow yourself to move away from them as well. Whatever you do, do not give up hope; use all of the resources that are around you as strength.
Over seven years ago, Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Today, after surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, she is cancer free. Our lives returned to normal, and I gained a new appreciation for living along the way. Two years after Heather was diagnosed, I went back to school full-time to study Information Technology. Indeed, this ordeal truly prepared me for college, and gave me the courage to pursue this dream. I wound up graduating with high honors, and I even gave the speech at my graduation. My speech, as you might have imagined, was about Heather’s diagnosis with cancer and what we all went through.
I never could have imagined that I would be up on that stage giving a graduation speech when just a few years earlier, Heather and I were dealing with the toughest situation we have ever faced. From all of this, I learned the power of hope. If we are to keep hope, then we always have a chance. I also learned how important it is to look for our own inner strength. This strength, truly, is the source of so much motivation that can help all of us get through the toughest challenges and the lowest lows of life.
Cameron Von St. James Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance http://www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/cameron/