Life’s Lessons: What Cancer Taught Me as a Caregiver

Several years ago in 2005, my wife Heather was diagnosed with cancer. She had malignant pleural mesothelioma, a very rare and deadly form. It was devastating to our family, particularly because we had just celebrated new life. Just three months prior to her diagnosis, she had given birth to Lily, a beautiful baby girl. We thought that we would be spending the rest of that year celebrating the holidays with our new bundle of joy, but we were in for something much different.

I became a caregiver as soon as I entered the doctor’s office the day of her diagnosis. I had to change who I was. My wife needed me, so did my newborn baby girl. The doctor told us that we had to make a decision on treatment right away. There weren’t too many hospitals who could help Heather in our area, so we had to look elsewhere. There was a specialist in Boston named Dr. David Sugarbaker who had helped many mesothelioma patients. I knew that if there was anyone who could help my wife, it was him.  I turned to our doctor and told him to get us to Boston.

After that initial visit, everything went chaotic for a while. I didn’t really know how my responsibilities were going to change until everything started to pile on. I needed to be strong for Lily and Heather, but things were often difficult. I was still working, trying to pay off our bills, and I wanted to continue being the best father I could be. I think I was angry at first because I was taking on too much and plagued by the thought of not being able to save my wife.  I constantly feared that I would lose her and be left a poor, widowed single father.  I broke down several times under the fear and pressure, but I never let Heather see.  She needed me to be strong for her, and the last thing she needed was to see my fears.

Luckily, I had others to lean on. Our family reached out to us in our time of need, providing support for all of us. In addition, friends and neighbors pulled together to help us with treatment bills. It was such a relief to realize that I wasn’t alone and neither was my family. My strongest advice to any other caregivers is to accept help whenever its offered, and don’t be too proud to ask for it.  There will always be people willing to help, even if at first you feel alone.

Heather underwent months and months of painful, grueling treatments in the attempt to eradicate her cancer.  In the end, she was able to defy the odds and do just that.  Today, seven years after her mesothelioma diagnosis, she remains cancer free. I’m so grateful for everything that I’m blessed with, not just a beautiful, healthy wife but also for Lily and the people who loved us even when I didn’t know they wanted to help. It truly saved my family and made me a stronger human being.

Being a caregiver was the most difficult challenge of my life, but it taught me many valuable lessons.  Now, I hope that by sharing some of our story, we can help inspire others in their own battles with cancer today.  Never give up hope, and never stop fighting for the ones you love.

 Blog Post written by –  Cameron Von St. James