Every family who encounters cancer has a struggle, but nothing seems harder to bear than the stories of those who are hit when they are especially vulnerable. When I was diagnosed, my youngest was barely 17, but the others were grown and independent. When cancer hit this family, they had a newborn. Against all odds, this a success story, and one which reminds us of the value of love and strength. I introduce the story of Cameron Von St James and his wife Heather, in this guest post:
“More than once, my wife has made the comment to me that she doesn’t know how I coped when she was diagnosed with cancer. Her mesothelioma diagnosis came only three months after she gave birth to our daughter Lily. What was a joyful, happy time in our lives turned quickly into a time filled with fear and uncertainty. When Heather’s doctor told her about her cancer, I looked at her, and she broke down crying. I didn’t know how we would get through this.
I was so overwhelmed with emotion. I was on the verge of breaking down when the doctor’s words brought me back to reality. He was talking about making medical decisions for my wife, and I knew this was just the beginning. It was the first of many days where we would be forced to make impossible decisions while going through overwhelming emotional turmoil.
My overwhelming emotions didn’t stop there, however. Following her diagnosis, I was angry at the world. I felt like it wasn’t fair that we had to go through this. For a while, I often lost control and lashed out at others. I used a lot using profane language. It didn’t take me long to realize how selfish I was being. The last thing my wife needed was to see just how scared I really was. I knew I needed to get it together and be strong for Heather, but it was so hard for me to do. When I was able to do it, I finally became the rock that she needed.
I was still overwhelmed with the new responsibilities that fell on me. I had a mile-long to-do list that included everything from travel arrangements to work to taking care of my house and family. I wouldn’t have been able to get through any of it without the help offered by our family and friends. I learned to prioritize and to first get done the things that were most important. I was still overwhelmed even with all the help, but I managed to get through it.
The hardest part of it all was sending Lily and Heather to South Dakota for two months following Heather’s surgery in Boston. I knew that I couldn’t work and take care of Heather while she recovered, and that’s what forced us to make this difficult decision. Heather’s parents in South Dakota offered to take care of them while Heather recovered and prepared for the next round of her mesothelioma treatment, and we decided to accept the offer. During that two-month period, I saw my family only once. I left work on a Friday night and drove 11 hours in a snowstorm to see them. I had to make the 11-hour drive home that Sunday so that I could be back at work on Monday morning.
What I learned through all of this is how lucky we were to even have difficult decisions to make. I was so lucky to have the help I had from all of our friends and family. I couldn’t have done half of what I did during this difficult time without their help. You have to accept help when it is offered to you during times this difficult. It’s been six years since Heather was diagnosed, and despite the overwhelming odds against her, she’s happy and healthy now, and cancer-free. I only hope that my words can help someone else who is going through cancer.”