I am grateful to host this article written by guest contributor Cameron Von St. James. Cameron shares his family caregiving experience and the lessons he learned through the experience.
Becoming My Wife’s Caregiver Made Me Stronger
Written by guest contributor Cameron Von St. James
November 21, 2005 is a day I will never forget. My wife Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, and I suddenly became caregiver to someone with cancer. I was ill-prepared, to say the least. Our first and only child, Lily, was only three months old. Heather and I thought we would be getting ready to happily celebrate Lily’s first holiday season and buy her first Christmas presents. Instead, our lives fell into chaos.
After her cancer diagnosis, I became both husband and caregiver to my wife, and there was more than one occasion when fear and responsibility overwhelmed me. I sometimes found myself crying on the kitchen floor in a moment of weakness. Still, the feelings of fear and hopelessness would always subside so that I could continue being strong for Heather. I had to be. I was her husband, after all.
Being a caregiver to someone with cancer is difficult on many levels. Our daily routines were shattered and replaced with uncertainty and stress. Heather and I had both been working full-time prior to her diagnosis, but now she was unable to work and I was only working part-time. She was being treated by a doctor in Boston who specialized in mesothelioma, Dr. David Sugarbaker. I went to doctor’s appointments with her, arranged all the travel to and from Boston and took care of Lily, all while trying to keep up with work and bills. My to-do list was overwhelming, to say the least. At the same time, I had to face my fears that my wife might die from cancer. I worried that I would end up a penniless widower raising a young daughter alone. I tried not to let Heather see it, but being her caregiver was the toughest test I had ever faced.
Luckily, Heather and I were blessed with help from family and friends, and even from complete strangers. If there’s any advice I can offer to those recently diagnosed with cancer and their caregivers, it would be that if someone offers help, take them up on it. If there are people you can call upon to help lighten your load, do it. Large or small, any favor is one less thing for you to worry about. It was also a great reminder to Heather and I that we were not alone and that there were people who cared about us.
Being a caregiver to someone with cancer is not a job you can simply walk away from. I had to learn to allow myself to have bad days, but to be careful not to let the fear or anger take me hostage. Instead, I focused on never giving up hope.
Although it took years for life to return to something like a normal routine, I am happy to say that Heather beat the odds. She went through mesothelioma surgery, radiation and chemotherapy to fight this awful disease, and I was by her side through each new challenge. Seven years after her diagnosis, Heather remains cancer free, and I am a stronger person for having survived the struggle alongside her as caregiver.
The ordeal also reminded me that time is precious. Two years after Heather’s diagnosis, while working full time and caring for both her and Lily, I made the decision to follow my dream of going back to school full-time to study information technology.
Learning to deal with the stress that came with being Heather’s caregiver, balancing a multitude of time commitments and fighting cancer by her side made me stronger. I got my information technology degree, graduated with honors and was even chosen as the graduation speaker for my class. In my speech, the message I shared was to never give up hope and to realize that each of us has it within us to be capable of accomplishing more than we could ever imagine, if only we believe in ourselves.
Read more from Cameron - http://www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/cameron/