Friday, March 15, 2013

Guest Post

 I've been toying with having some folks share their stories regarding cancer. Cameron Von St. James reached out to me a couple of weeks ago, with his family's story. I'm sharing it, below. 

On November 21, 2005, my life changed forever. It is a day that will be embedded in my memory forever.  My beautiful wife Heather found out she had a cancer known as malignant pleural mesothelioma. That day marks the day that my life changed forever. Just three months earlier, we became brand new parents after our daughter Lily was born. I was prepared to become a new parent, but nothing could have prepared me to be a caregiver for a cancer patient.

The doctor provided details about mesothelioma and suggested that we seek treatment at a facility with more experience in this field.   We could either go to a local hospital, a regional hospital that did not have a specific program designed for patients with mesothelioma, or we could schedule an appointment with Dr. David Sugarbaker, a well-known mesothelioma specialist in Boston.  My wife was still in a state of shock, paralyzed with fear and unable to decide what to do. I knew she needed help right then. I told the doctor that we would schedule an appointment with Dr. Sugarbaker in Boston.  This was just one of several decisions I would be called upon to help my wife make after she was diagnosed with cancer.

Our lives for the following two months were completely out of control.  Our comfortable daily schedules ware gone.  Just prior to Heather's diagnosis, we both had full time jobs. However, Heather had to quit her job and I continued to work on a part time basis in order to be able to care for my family. In addition to working part time, I had to travel to appointments and mesothelioma treatments, care for our newborn daughter, take care of our house, the list never ended. Dealing with all of the daily challenges and a long to-do list started to become overwhelming. I was so overcome with fear that I would often sit down on the floor in the kitchen break down crying.  I wanted it to all be a bad dream so badly.  However, I never let Heather see me when I was having a moment of weakness. I knew she needed me to be strong, so I was always strong and in control in front of her.  

Fortunately, many people would come to our family's aid in the months to come.  Friends, family and people we didn’t even know were there for us.  People were there to comfort us with kind words and even desperately needed financial help.  There is no way we can extend our gratitude to each and everyone who was there for us. One thing I would like to tell people diagnosed with cancer and people who take care of them is to never say no to help when it is offered. You will have too much to worry about, so every bit of help counts.  Also, it is always important to remember that you are not in this by yourself. You have people you can count on and who will be there and willing to help you and your family. Take advantage of their offers of help.

Taking care of a cancer patient is very hard. This is the unavoidable truth. Life becomes hectic and you will feel anxious and go through periods of time of not knowing what will come next.  This will be a challenge of a lifetime unlike any other challenge you have experienced.  Unlike work, school and other challenges, this will be one challenge you will not be able to walk away from.  Never let your negative emotions take control of you. Of course, you will hit rough patches when things get really bad.  Even the strongest people have their weakest moments. Even when things seem impossible, always stay positive and remain hopeful. Make sure you use all the resource available to you that will help you keep your sanity and make life easier.

After many years passed by, things started to fall in place. Heather had already completed chemotherapy, radiation and undergone surgery to fight mesothelioma. Though the chances of her survival were slim, Heather survived.  Seven years since her initial diagnosis, her body is still free of cancer.  

I have learned a lot from this challenge.  In many ways, being stubborn is a good thing. I now know that every minute of the day is so important. Within two years of learning Heather had cancer and taking care of Heather and our daughter Lily, I decided it was time for change.  I decided to enroll in school and study Information Technology full time.

Dealing with my wife's cancer and stress over the years helped get me ready for school.  With hard work, I graduated with honors and was asked to speak at my graduation.  Even though some time has passed, I recall the speech that I gave at graduation.  After learning my wife had cancer, had anyone ever asked me what I would be doing in 5 years I would never have ever guessed that I would have graduated from college with high honors.  We all have more potential and ability to do much more than we think we can do, simply by believing that we can accomplish anything we want. Heather and Lily were in the audience that day to cheer me on, and that was the greatest reward of all.

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