Our beloved caregivers – guest piece by Cameron

What would I have done without Cheryl? I have no idea, to be honest. I am 100% certain that she made everything better.

Last week, I received an email from Cameron – husband to Heather Von St. James, survivor advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, and father to Lily Rose. Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma just months after the birth of their child, Lily. This cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos, and Heather was exposed as a child. After radical surgery (makes double mastectomy look like a walk in the park), chemo, and radiation treatments, Heather is thriving, now 6 years later.

Both Heather and Cameron are passionate about bringing awareness to mesothelioma and the dangers of asbestos exposure.

So, I received an email from Cameron asking if he could share his story on my blog. He sent me his story…..

How I Coped With My Wife’s Cancer Diagnosis (written by Cameron Von St. James)

Throughout my time as a caregiver to my wife, she often commented that she couldn’t imagine how I coped with her diagnosis. Though I only spoke with her once about my feelings, I vowed that I would share more. Here is my story:

Our first and only daughter, Lily, was born three months prior to her diagnosis. This time brought our family immense joy. Later, our joy was turned to fear and uncertainty when Heather received her diagnosis. When the doctors mentioned the word mesothelioma, I looked into my wife’s tear-filled eyes and thought, “How are we ever going to get through this.”

I remember being overwhelmed and almost on the verge of a nervous breakdown when I heard the doctor’s questions about Heather’s future medical care. These questions brought me back to reality, but it marked the first day of many days that I would feel overwhelmed about the decisions I had to help make regarding my wife’s care.

Uncertainty and fear were not the only feelings I experienced. I also experienced rage, anger and fear. Heather’s diagnosis just didn’t seem fair. When I communicated with others, I often used profanity because I was so angry about her diagnosis. I later learned to control my anger and become stronger for my wife and daughter. Though I learned to communicate without profanity, I still had my moments. There were days that I was afraid, but I still needed to be her source of hope and strength. This task was easier said than done, but I did my best to manage.

After her diagnosis, I had a long to-do list on many days. My to-do list contained tasks such as work, caring for pets, travel arrangements for Heather’s treatments and care for my daughter. I was overwhelmed by the tasks, but I learned to accept help from others. I also learned to prioritize. Although I haven’t always been that organized, I quickly learned that I needed to develop a system and a routine in order to get done all the tasks on my list. Even after prioritizing, I still would never have been able to make it through those times without the generous outpouring of help and support from our friends and family.

The two-month period following Heather’s surgery, she flew to South Dakota to be with her parents and our daughter, to recover from her mesothelioma treatment and prepare for the next phase. One Friday, I decided to brave a snowstorm and drive 11 hours through the night to South Dakota. On my trip, I had to sleep a few hours in the car while the snowplows cleared the road. Then, I could continue my journey. I visited with my daughter and wife on Saturday and Sunday morning after I arrived exhausted. I drove back 11 hours after a short visit, but it was worth every second of travel to be with my family.

It was difficult for me to be away from my wife and daughter, but I never regretted the experience. Allowing my wife and daughter to remain in South Dakota was the best course of action since I could not take care of Lily and my wife while I was working. My wife’s cancer diagnosis forced us to make difficult choices, but the choices were necessary. I learned that I had to accept help from others and take comfort in the fact that I still had my wife around to make choices about her care. Through all of our struggles, Heather is still here and still healthy over six years later. I hope that our story can be a source of hope and help to those currently battling cancer.

Check out more from Cameron and also his wife here:

Check out more about mesothelioma, a cancer that Cameron describes as completely preventable, here:

—-back to Lee—-
Cancer comes in so many sizes, shapes, and flavors… yet the impacts on our families can be very similar. At the end of the day, our caregivers work so hard to keep things going, and our friends and family members step up and help out with things ranging from helping with transportation to bringing over meals to simply listening to even helping out financially….

It’s stories like the above – stories of survival and hope and strength – it’s stories like these that help me feel stronger and help me remember how truly wonderful my friends and family members are. I love you all.


About rleepenn

I'm a mom and a chemistry professor, and I love to ride bikes! On July 29th, 2011, I received the news that I have breast cancer. This is my blog....
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