Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Challenges of Caring for a Cancer Patient You Love

I was recently contacted by Cameron asking me to share his wife's battle with mesothelioma and of course I agreed.  I hope this article helps those battling cancer and their caregivers.

Cameron is husband to Heather Von St. James, survivor advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, and father to Lily Rose. He, along with Heather and young Lily, had their world's turned upside down when Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, just 3 1/2 months after the birth of his only child.

The Challenges of Caring for a Cancer Patient You Love
After her mesothelioma diagnosis, my wife wondered how I felt or what I experienced. I only talked to her once about my perspective as a caregiver, but through this forum, I hope to share more about my experiences.

Our first daughter, Lily, was born just three months prior to my wife's diagnosis. We experienced incredible joy and also immense uncertainty and fear at the same time after she was diagnosed. I distinctly remember hearing the news of her diagnosis for the first time. She was crying, and I remember thinking, “How are we ever going to get through this together?”

I remember feeling overwhelmed and ready to break down, but the doctor’s questions about future medical choices made me refocus on solutions to help my wife rather than being in despair. Though I chose to remain focused on solutions, this was the first day of many days that I felt overwhelmed with despair. Though overwhelmed, I still had to make difficult decisions with my wife.

After her diagnosis, I experienced anger, rage and fear. There were many times when I only communicated with others by using profanity. Even church members and the medical community were subject to my rage. Over time, I learned to control my emotions better. I had to be strong for my wife and daughter because they were depending on me. Sometimes I fell short, but I always tried to be strong around my wife. I never wanted her to see my fears, and I needed to be a source of optimism and stability. Though this was the right course of action, it was easier said than done.

After the diagnosis, I had a long to-do list. I was responsible for work, my daughter, pets and travel arrangements. After I learned to prioritize events in my life, I was not as overwhelmed. I also learned to accept offers of help from other people. My family was so blessed to have people to help us during this time. I couldn’t have made it some days without them. Even with the help, I still felt overwhelmed on many days.

One two-month period, my wife, Heather cannot imagine what I went through. After her surgery in Boston, Heather flew to South Dakota to spend time with her parents. She was recovering from surgery and preparing for the rest of her mesothelioma treatment. Lily was also with her mother during this time. I was home trying to keep the family financially above water, and I was only able to visit with Heather and Lily once during this time.

One Friday, I drove all night for 11 hours and through a snowstorm to see them. I slept a few hours in the car waiting for the road to be cleared and arrived Saturday exhausted. I spent the rest of the day with them on Saturday and started back on my journey on Sunday. I arrived in time for work Monday morning.

This time for me was extremely difficult, but I realized it was for the best. I couldn’t take care of Lily and work at the same time. I don’t regret this decision, but it was a difficult choice. I was thankful we still had another day to make a choice. I learned that it was difficult to accept help from others, but help helped us maintain control despite uncertainty. 


JoanieMc said...

Gosh, what a journey. You really have to put your trust in the Lord and be strong. Such a great happy ending. I will say, this brought tears first of sadness and then of joy. God bless this family and I thank them for sharing.


Esther said...

So wonderful of him to open up and share with others his journey!!! I am sure it will help many to know that they are not alone and it will be of comfort to them!!! My thoughts and prayers are with Cameron, his wife and their families!

Cameron VSJ said...


Thank you for the incredibly kind words about my post and my family! And thank you to Yolie for helping me share my story with you. I wish everyone all the best!