My Life as a Cancer Caregiver

My wife has often wondered how I managed to get through everything when she was diagnosed with mesothelioma. It was only three months before she was diagnosed that we were in tears of joy because our daughter, Lily, had just been born. It was the most exciting time of our life, but unfortunately that happiness was short-lived. Only three months later, my wife was told that she had mesothelioma, a very rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. We were in total shock upon receiving the diagnosis, and all I could do was sit and wonder how we would ever make it through this.

I was almost about to break down alongside my wife when the doctors started asking questions about treatment, wanting to know how we wished to proceed. We had to make tough decisions even when we were at such a stressful point in our lives. It was quite an overwhelming feeling. There were many emotions that I felt, including anger and frustration. It was tough for me to keep control of these emotions, which caused me to have issues communicating with other people.  Angry outbursts of profanity were commonplace for me for a while. Over a period of time, I started to get the hang of controlling my emotion because it was something I had to do for my wife and for Lily. I did not want my wife to see that I was just as scared as she was.  She needed me to be strong, and to be a source of hope and optimism, not negativity and fear.  Therefore, I did my best to contain my negative emotions and only focus on the positives for my family.

Once my wife was diagnosed with cancer, the list of things I had to do seemed endless. It became difficult for me to manage so many different tasks, from taking care of Lily and our pets to setting up medical appointments and travel arrangements for my wife, taking care of our home, all on top of holding down my full time job. It was a challenge, but there was a lot of support from our family and friends, all of whom were willing to help out. I will forever be grateful to each and every person who reached out to us in our time of need.

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There was a period of time during all this that was particular difficult for me. For two months, I went without being able to see my wife and daughter. Heather underwent a very invasive mesothelioma surgery in Boston, and we sent Lily to stay with Heather’s parents. As soon as she was well enough to travel after the operation, Heather flew to South Dakota to join Lily at her parents house, where she would continue to recover and prepare for further treatment over the next two months. I was only able to see my wife and child once during those two months, and that was rough for me. I kept telling myself that it was for the best. I had to work full time to keep a roof over our heads, and I could not give Heather and Lily the care they needed while working. These were tough choices, but ones that had to be made under the circumstances.

One thing I learned throughout this period of my life was that it is perfectly acceptable to receive help from other people. I also learned to be grateful for the ability to be able to make my own decisions. Although my wife went through such a struggle, she is a survivor. Six years after treatment, she is still alive and well. I hope that our story can inspire others who are going through a similar battle.

By: Cameron Von St. James of the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance 

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