I Gained Valuable Skills Being a Caregiver

by Cameron Von St. James (shares his story of care-giving to his wife who battled cancer.)

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I never knew much about the type of cancer known as mesothelioma until my wife
was diagnosed with it in November of 2005. I will never forget the day we sat across
the desk from the doctor as he told us about malignant pleural mesothelioma and
what that diagnosis would mean for my wife, Heather.

This news caught us off guard. We were new parents to a lovely daughter named
Lily and we were in the process of planning Lily’s first Christmas when we received
her diagnosis. What we thought would be just minor exhaustion and illness from her
being tired all the time suddenly turned into a life-threatening form of cancer. We
were stunned and unprepared for this news to say the least.

The realization that I would be Heather’s caregiver settled over me and I looked at
my wife as we heard the doctor talk about the disease. I could see terror and worry
on her face and I knew I would have to take control. The doctor told us about our
treatment options and he stressed that we really needed to see a specialist who had
experience in working with mesothelioma patients.

We decided our best treatment plan for Heather was to take her to Boston so she
could be part of a reputable mesothelioma program with a doctor who had extensive
experience in treating this disease. All I could do was pray that this man in Boston
would be able to help my wife.

I suddenly found myself with an ever-increasing list of things to do. From taking care
of Lily, trying to work at my regular job, and getting Heather back and forth to doctor
appointments, I was totally overwhelmed. Making endless travel arrangements and
taking care of Heather at home also became regular parts of my to-do list. My to-do
list sometimes seemed more than I could handle.

There were a few times when I felt completely helpless because I was overcome
with worry at what would happen. It was mentally and physically draining trying to
do everything and still wonder whether or not my wife would survive the disease
she was fighting. Thankfully, the temporary bouts of feeling overcome with worry
subsided and I continued to do what was necessary each day until we made it
through the entire ordeal.

Heather and I were shown so much love and care from people in our
community. Friends and family members united together to give us encouragement,
financial support and to support us in many other small ways. Each thing done for
us was a great help and I am unsure how we would have made it through Heather’s
treatment process without all of the incredible assistance we received from these
great people.

If I have any advice to give to someone who is a caregiver, I would say that it is
really important to be open to accepting help. It often takes many people coming
together to help someone pull through a disease. The support that was given to us
made a big difference in our lives, and we will always be grateful for it.

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No matter how big or small the help is that is being offered by someone, it is one
less thing to worry about. The less you have to worry about, the more you can
focus on caring for your loved one. Being a caregiver may be the toughest time you
face in life, especially when you worry about whether or not the person you love
will survive. But when you have other people to lean on during the time, it makes it
easier to get through every day. Remember that there is no room for stubborn pride
in a battle with cancer.

Today, Heather is free from cancer. It has been years since we received the news
of her mesothelioma diagnosis and our lives have returned to something resembling
normalcy. I went back to school to study Information Technology when Lily was two
years old. The time management skills and the stress management skills I learned
while being a caregiver to my wife worked to my benefit. I discovered I could do
more, and when I graduated, I was privileged to give the graduation speech for my
class.

If you had asked me back then where I would be five years later, I never would have
guessed at the surprising turns my life would take. I am grateful to all the people
who helped us, and I am grateful my wife is healthy and in remission. Now, we wish
to share our story of hope with others, in the hopes that it may inspire them in their
own battles today. Never give up hope, and never stop fighting for the ones you
love.

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