This is a guest post by Cameron Von St. James, husband of mesothelioma survivor Heather Von St. James:
My wife and I will never forget November 21, 2005. This was the day we learned that my wife was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, and the day that I became her caregiver. I was unprepared for the responsibility, but I had to be there for my wife. Three months prior to my wife’s diagnosis, we had our first daughter, Lily. At a time when I thought we should be celebrating her first holiday in the world, we were talking with Heather’s family about cancer treatments.
There were three different options for Heather’s treatment, but she was so in shock that she couldn’t decide which was best for her. I knew that she needed help. I selected a specialist, Dr. David Sugarbaker, instead of a local university hospital and a regional hospital for treatment, as I thought it would give Heather the best chance to beat this terrible disease. It would be the first of many difficult decisions we’d be asked to make in the coming months.
After she was diagnosed, Heather could not work, and I could only work part time. We were living in a chaotic state, and I had so many responsibilities. I had to take care of my daughter, make a doctor’s appointments, and make travel arrangements. I was overwhelmed with responsibility and under an enormous amount of stress. My thoughts raced, and I wondered if my wife was going to die, and leave me a broke, widowed single father raising a daughter who would never really know her mother. Some days I sobbed like a baby, crumbling under the stress and pressure, but I always tried to remain strong in Heather’s presence. I knew that the last thing she needed was to see my fears.
Based on my experience, coping with cancer alone is not recommended. Support of friends, family, and strangers are needed. I received this type of help in the form of everything from comforting words to desperately needed financial assistance. We were grateful for any help we received, and we recommend that everyone accept any help offered to them by others. I had to learn this the hard way; it took me a while to let go of my pride and accept this help, but once I did a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I can never thank everyone who reached out to us enough.
Being a caregiver is never easy. It’s not a job that you can quite or walk away from. I knew that I had to use my resources to cope with the situation and remain sane. If you are in a similar situation, take these lessons from me. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, there are always people to go to, whether you see them or not. Allow yourself to have bad days, these are inevitable and even necessary at times. Above all else, never, ever give up hope for a better tomorrow.
Heather underwent months of mesothelioma chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Against all odds, she beat this terrible disease and has been cancer-free for seven years. We now hope that by sharing our story of success, we can help inspire others currently going through a similar situation today.