Living as a Caregiver

By Guest Blogger Cameron Von St. James

Family

My wife, Heather, and I are never going to forget November 21, 2005. On this day, my lovely wife was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a type of cancer. This was also the day that I became a caregiver for a person with cancer. I cannot say that either of us were prepared for this sudden life change. Only three months earlier our first and only child, Lily, was brought into the world. We thought that we would be preparing for our first Christmas together as a family, but this was not to be. Instead, we began a long, difficult battle to save Heather’s life.

As soon as we found out that Heather had cancer, I had to start my new role as a caregiver. We learned some information about mesothelioma and were given three choices for treatment. We could go to a local university hospital, a regional hospital or a doctor in Boston. This doctor in Boston, Dr. Sugarbaker, was a mesothelioma specialist, renowned for his work with this type of cancer. I knew that if Heather were to have any chance of beating this disease, she would need the best care possible. Immediately, we told the doctor to get us to Boston.

Over the next two months, our lives became completely different. Before her diagnosis, we had both been working full-time; now, I was working part-time, and Heather was unable to work at all. My to-do list was constantly growing as I was taking Heather to her appointments, making travel arrangements for Boston and taking care of our little Lily. On top of this, I was terrified that Heather would die from cancer, and Lily and I would be left without her. This fear got the best of me on multiple occasions, and I would break down and cry by myself. Fortunately, this feeling would quickly go away, and I was always careful to hide these moments from Heather. I reminded myself that I needed to stay strong for Heather and be her source of hope and support through this trying time.  The last thing she needed was to see my fears.

So many people helped us during our time of need. Family members, friends and people whom we had never met before reached out to us with much needed support. People offered kind words, and others even offered financial help. I learned a valuable lesson from all of this. If you are a caregiver for a person with cancer and someone offers you help, take it. Even the smallest amount of help can be a huge weight off your shoulders.  Additionally, you will be reminded that you are not alone, and that is so important to remember when you are going through this extremely difficult situation.

Of course, being a caregiver of a person who has cancer is not easy in any sense of the word. It’s a fact that simply cannot be denied. Not only is your life chaotic and completely different, but also you are full of stress and anxiety over what is going to happen. It’s a test that you cannot walk away from. It’s a test that you cannot quit. Remember, try to not let fear or anger overtake your life. Sometimes, you need to have bad days, but you should always keep your hope. You can use all that is around you to stay strong and to keep fighting.

Seven years ago, Heather was diagnosed with cancer. She went through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy to battle this disease, and she has won her fight. Mesothelioma is no longer a part of our lives; instead, we have worked to put our lives back together. I truly learned how precious life is and how we are living on borrowed minutes, so I went back to school full-time to study Information Technology.

My experience as a caregiver for Heather really prepared me to go back to school. In fact, I graduated college with high honors, and I was the graduation speaker when my years at school finished. My speech was about Heather’s diagnosis with cancer and all that we went through. Certainly, five years earlier, I never imagined that I would have been standing there as a college graduation speaker, with my wife and daughter in the audience to cheer me on. Through this experience, I have learned about the power that we have inside of ourselves. If we are willing to believe in ourselves and willing to fight through the odds, then we will find that we are capable of so much more than we ever could have possibly imagined.

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Cameron Von St. James poses with his wife Heather and daughter Lily. Heather is a rare survivor of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.

About Cameron Von St. James

Cameron is husband to Heather Von St. James, an American survivor advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Stricken with such an aggressive cancer, Heather was given 15 months to live upon diagnosis. Devastated and faced with the very real possibility of raising their infant daughter on his own, Cameron fought alongside Heather in her battle with mesothelioma. It was his determination and refusal to compromise on doctors or treatments that led them from their home in Roseville, Minnesota, to Boston, where Heather received radical surgery from esteemed surgeon, Dr. David Sugarbaker. She continues to thrive seven years later.

Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act

Recently, asbestos companies in the United States have been using their political influence to introduce a new bill. It is called the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (FACT Act). The Asbestos Cancer Victims’ Rights Campaign is concerned. They warn that if passed this bill will delay, and in some cases, deny justice and badly needed compensation to people suffering from asbestos-related diseases. American readers of this blog can find additional information on the bill here. If they wish they can also sign a petition. Go to www.CancerVictimsRights.org/take-action/sign-the-petition/ and follow the instructions to sign the petition at the bottom of the page.

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