The Difficulties and Rewards of Being a Cancer Caregiver

8 01 2013

(Note from Geoff: This is an article sent to me by a father and husband named Cameron. He saw this blog and asked if I would mind posting a brief article of this experience as a caregiver to his wife during her battle with cancer. I know I haven’t written anything for this blog in awhile, and this might be the catalyst that brings me back to it. I hope you enjoy Cameron’s story.)

My wife sometimes tells me that she’s unable to comprehend what I’d gone through during the time that she struggled with cancer. I’ve only discussed it with her once, but now I hope to reveal more about the experience for the benefit of those that could learn from our story.

A few months before the diagnosis, we were blessed with our first and only baby girl, Lily. Unfortunately, our lives took a turn for the worse just three short months later. I still vividly remember that fateful day when the doctors diagnosed my wife with mesothelioma. All I could do was look into her distraught, tearful eyes and wonder how we could get through something like this.

I was completely overwhelmed and at the edge of a breakdown, but the doctor’s questions snapped me out of it for the time being. It was just one out of many times when I’d have to balance my emotional pain with helping my wife. I was filled with rage at first. I was angry at the world for putting my wife in this cruel and unfair situation. It was hard to control and oftentimes, my only outlet was profanity. Luckily, I eventually learned to get a hold on this anger and realized that my wife and daughter needed my strength. They depended on me and the last thing they needed was to see how scared I was. From that moment on, I did my very best to be nothing but a source of hope and optimism for my wife.

After my wife’s diagnosis, there were times when I was overloaded with work and new responsibilities for which I was completely unprepared. Now, all of our responsibilities rested in my hands, including the care of our daughter and pets, Heather’s care, our home, my job, our travel arrangements and medical appointments, the list seemed endless most days. It felt like too much at first, but then I learned how to prioritize tasks. An abundance of help from others was also forthcoming, which I learned to accept gratefully. Thinking back, I don’t know what I’d have done without those people. I will forever be grateful to each and every one of them for their loving care and support.

For two months in particular, things were very difficult for me. After my wife had mesothelioma surgery in Boston, she flew to her parents’ home in South Dakota where she stayed to recuperate and prepare for the second step in her treatment. Lily had already been staying there during the operation, which left me at home, alone, to work at my job and take care of the house. I only saw my family once in a two-month period. After work one Friday evening, I jumped in the car and drove for 11 hours overnight and through a blizzard just to see them. I got there Saturday morning, spent the rest of that day and part of the next with them, then drove the 11 hours back home. After all, my boss still expected me to show up for work on time Monday morning.

It was extremely hard to be separated from my family for so long, but it wasn’t a loss. It simply the most logical and necessary choice at the time. I simply couldn’t care for my wife and our daughter and keep my job at the same time. I can’t say that I look back on any of this with regret. While mesothelioma forced us to make hard decisions, I’m grateful we were even able to make them at all.

From this journey, I learned to accept help with gratitude and to find comfort in the fact that we could still make decisions, no matter how difficult they were. It helped us maintain some degree of control over our lives in a time of great uncertainty.  Despite the odds against her, Heather is here and cancer free over six years later.  I hope that our story can be a source of help and comfort to those currently battling cancer or any harmful disease.

~Cameron Von St. James





A Call To Arms!

11 02 2011

Dear friends, family, and readers of The Long Spin,

I’m here to once again make an appeal to you. My sister and I have taken up the charge of riding another 100 miles in the mountains above Lake Tahoe to generate donations for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I won’t babble on here too much because I wrote a post on our team fundraising page that I would like you all to read.

The short story is this, we still haven’t found a cure for cancer. We have made advances though, but we need donations to continue to pour in so research can be funded and patients can be helped. The federal government is cutting funding at an alarming rate for cancer research, so we rely more and more on people like you and I to raise awareness and generate donations so the fight can be continued. It’s up an uphill battle, but it’s a battle we CAN win.

So please take a moment and head over to our Team In Training fundraising page that is linked just below and read our plea. On behalf of myself, my family, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and those battling cancer, thank you for your time.

http://pages.teamintraining.org/ntxok/ambbr11/redlanterncycling

-Geoff

 





The Snowman Cometh

31 01 2011

The clouds slowly crept in from the Northwest to hang ominously above the downtown skyline. The sun was blotted about by the white clouds that stretched from horizon to horizon. Tension clung to the walls in a haze you could nearly feel. It wasn’t so much widespread panic and fear as anxious anticipation of what would arrive in the coming hours.

The morning began as most do in the depths of winter. It was cold. The wind wasn’t strong, but it was bitter cold. Nothing unusual about that. There was a feeling though. An emotion arose from the deep, dark parts of the soul. Something was amiss. That inexplicable and foreboding feeling of impending doom.

With a turn of the key the car roared into action. Even on the coldest of mornings she’s a reliable starter. The radio chirped to life and then it hit. You knew what the feeling was. The weather forecast was just beginning and the weatherman relayed what you already knew to be true. Doom and gloom. Your wintry demise was upon you, and there was nowhere to run. “Metropolitan areas expected to receive ten inches, perhaps twelve,” the weatherman forewarned.

Here? Now? But there were preparations to be made and no time to make them! You already knew the hardware store was out of snow shovels and the grocery store’s shelves were bare of everything from bread to SPAM. You take a quick mental inventory of the pantry and realize you just might be able to squeak out survival for the next 48 hours or so. What about power? You have a generator, but it’s still in the shed and you almost surely don’t have enough gas for it. There may be time after work to get by the gas station if they haven’t already run the tanks dry. “Why is it that people always stock up on gas when crisis is at hand?” you wonder to yourself.

It’s impossible to find focus and motivation sitting in the office. How can anyone get any work done when we know what’s coming? Surely the meteorologists are exaggerating, right? A foot of snow isn’t possible here. That’s absurd!

But it’s not absurd. It’s reality. And it’s about to relentlessly hammer down on you from above with reckless abandon. The frozen tundra is coming, and you are not prepared. You are not prepared for SNOWPOCALYPSE 2011!

 

Seriously folks, I hope everyone is prepared for the winter weather that is on the way. Be safe out there and stay warm!





PRESS RELEASE: 100 More Miles

21 01 2011

Consider this the official press release from the Long Spin that I will once again be riding 100 miles in the mountains around Lake Tahoe with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training program for the sole purpose of raising money to fight and cure blood cancers: leukemia, lymphoma, Hodkin’s disease and myeloma. I should also note that my sister, Shani, will be riding as well. We will both be mentors for the team as well.

After this year I believe my family will have raised in excess of $25,000 in our endeavors with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. In total, my family has already raised money to complete two marathons and four 100-mile bike rides. This year will raise that to SIX 100-mile bike rides.

We keep doing this because we haven’t found a cure yet. Someday we will. Every day and every dollar gets us one step closer. We can and we will find a cure.

That’s about all I’m going to say at this point. Soon I will have my online fundraising page setup and will have more info ready to pass on. Stay tuned.

And before I go I will leave you with one photo that will serve as inspiration throughout training and the ride.

Consider yourself press released.

WHAT AN OBJECT LESSON IN SUFFERING IN ORDER TO CAUSE PAIN. FAUSTO IS DEEP IN THE HURT LOCKER… AND LOOK AT SWARTHY DWARF ROBIC’S CHAIN: HE’S FIRED UP HIS COTTAGE OF WATTAGE ALRIGHT. WHEN YOU NEED AN ARMY JEEP TO KEEP UP, YOU KNOW THEY’RE TRULY BIG RINGING. ~Photo and caption shamelessly stolen from http://www.bigringriding.com

 





Figuring It All Out

18 01 2011

I’m sitting here in my living room trying to figure out a few things. First, I’m trying to figure out what the hell I’m going to do about a haircut. My hair is long and my sideburns are shaggy and I just haven’t decided how to go about getting my haircut. It’s such a simple task, but one that has become a real challenge for me to overcome. It’s just a haircut. Only it’s about more than just the haircut.  It’s about the people involved, the friendship, and the routine. All that has changed.

I’m also trying to figure out how to break myself of the double-space habit. At some point I became accustomed to hitting the space bar twice after a period. It isn’t necessary. The double-space is an antiquated practice from before the time of modern word processing. It’s such a trivial little habit and yet it’s immensely difficult to break. And don’t kid yourself, I just went back and edited out all my double spaces.

The last thing I’m trying to figure out is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. This is the biggie. Much bigger than the double spaces. I had a bit of a religious experience this weekend and it really renewed my introspection into what it is that I am supposed to be doing with my life.

Part of this inquest into my life’s purpose requires that I ask the question, “What are you willing to sacrifice?” This is a difficult question to answer. It’s easy to be complacent. It’s also easy to dream about big things. The hardest part is figuring out where the big dreaming diverges into real action.

I’m not sure what I’m willing to sacrifice yet. I don’t think I’m willing to move away from my current location. I just moved into a new house and I’m loving it. Most of my family is close by. I have my girlfriend here. I’m thinking about getting a dog. Many of my friends are close. It’s hard enough to maintain and foster those relationships living this close to each other.  I’m not willing to give up the bond I have with these people by moving across the country. They mean too much. Those relationships give more meaning to my life than anything else, and distancing myself from them is the last thing I want to do.

Am I willing to give up my salary? Would I take a pay cut to find a more fulfilling career? The answer to that question is an unequivocal “YES”. I am absolutely willing to give up monetary gain for career satisfaction. How much am I willing to give? That question is a little bit harder to answer. I have basic needs like all humans: shelter, food, rent money, car payment, student loan payment, ingredients to brew beer, etc. So within reason, I’m willing to take a big cut if it means a greater sense of satisfaction and joy in my career and life.

But is the grass really greener on the other side? Probably not. I was in the mixed company the other evening with a few people who are government employees and a few people who are not employed by the public. I was lamenting a few feelings about my current employment, and the overwhelming response from the non-government employees was how much they would love to have a job like mine. It boggles the mind attempting to understand how almost every person in the room seemed to envy the position of someone else. Would everyone be happy if we all just traded jobs? Of course not!

So what’s to blame? I’m really at a loss on this one. I have no insight into the mindset of today’s workforce that will create a greater understanding of workplace happiness. I think a big portion of career satisfaction comes from the environment and the people you work with. I think some enjoyment comes from the feeling of being utilized to your potential without being overworked or underworked. Finally, I think most of us actually have some profession out there that perfectly suits us. I think there truly is something perfectly suited for everyone. That job where you show up and say, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing.’ Sadly, I think very few of us actually find it.

I’m really not sure where this leaves me. It’s clear that I’m not doing what I’m “supposed” to be doing. I think there is a plan for me and I think eventually I will find the source of true satisfaction. I have no clue what it is that I’m supposed to be doing, and I have no clue what the next step will be. I’m trying to be open-minded about the situation. I’m pretty much willing to try anything. Life is a lot of trial and error, and this is no different. So until the next thing comes around I will continue to do the best I can on the current thing. That’s really all we can do, isn’t it?

I think I’m going to approach it like a long bicycle ride. You start out and it takes some time to get warmed up. At some point early on you ask, “What the hell am I doing out here?” Then you start to cruise a little bit and get into the swing of things. That big mountain climb approaches and sometimes you hit a rough spot. You find yourself in a brief place of pain and suffering. Eventually that passes though. It always passes if you just keep pedaling. You have no choice but to keep pedaling.

I feel like maybe I’m in that rough spot. So maybe if I just keep pedaling I will reach the peak and find a nice long downhill waiting for me. I’m sure some of you are in that rough spot too. Maybe it’s your career, a family situation, personal finances, or sickness. Take solace in the fact that you aren’t alone on that climb. Others are there too. So keep pedaling and I will see you on the downhill.





The Reality of Mortality, Again…

13 01 2011

It wasn’t long ago I was writing a post about a friend who was much too young that passed away.  Now I’m back to do it again.  I have to say it’s already getting old and I’m planning on not doing a post like this again.  I’m just going to keep this short and sweet since it’s hard to drum up the motivation for a post like this.

 

I simply want to say thank you to Shad.

Thank you for cutting my hair and making me look FABULOUS for the last 15 years.

Thank you for always making me sit up straight.  Bad posture is a terrible habit.

Thank you for teaching me that a positive attitude will bring good in your life.  A bad attitude perpetuates itself.

Thank you for reminding me that I should trust my instincts.

Thank you for your joke of a day.  They always made me smile no matter how bad they were.

Thank you for be a constant foundation in my life.  Someone who I could always rely on to make me feel better about life than when I first walked into your shop.

Thank you for teaching me to be moderate in judgment and respectful of others’ lifestyles.  They may not have made a choice.

Thank you for always being a positive influence and such a shining personality.

Thank you for being more than just the guy who cuts my hair.

Thank you for being a friend to me and my family.

You had such a profound impact on my life.  So many of my beliefs have been influenced by you.  You were a big part of my life from age 13 on and I will always remember the things I’ve learned from you and the fond memories I have.  Rest well.

 

I want to encourage all the readers to take a minute and reflect on all the people in your life.  Think about the people who you interact with that you might take for granted.  Think about the influence and the impact that those people have on your life that you usually don’t consider.  You have more friends than you realize.  Next time you see them, thank them for being important.  Never be afraid to give a hug, and never leave someone’s company on bad terms.

 





Big Ring Mentality In 2011

4 01 2011

It’s 2011.  It’s time to go big.

Let me explain to you first what “Big Ring Mentality” means.  In cycling, putting it in the “big ring” basically means pedaling in a hard gear and working really hard for long periods of time.  I stole it from this website Big Ring Riding.  They showcase cyclists who are the toughest of the tough.  Their tagline is: “It’s not just a chainring, it’s a state of mind.”  That’s my theme for 2011.  Big Ring Mentality.  So let’s ride.

The new year has already brought a lot of big changes in my life that I’m ready to embrace.  I have big plans for 2011 and I wanted to share a few of those plans with you.

New year’s day really started 2011 off with a giant change in my life.  I, along with family and friends, spent the entire day moving me into a new house.  Not precisely a new house, but new to me.  It’s actually the house I grew up in (which is kind of odd in a way…).  My parents recently moved into a new house, so I have squatted in the old house in their stead.  (Side note: Having your parents as landlords is kind of nice.  I’m already late on the first month’s rent…)

This is big for a number of reasons.  Since I started college I have only lived by myself for one year.  Immediately after finishing law school I moved into an overpriced apartment. I soon realized my mediocre budget couldn’t afford a fancy downtown apartment, so I moved back in with my college roommates.  Now that I’m nearly 28 and I’ve been working in the real world for over 2 years I figured it was time for my departure from the old ways.

I’m sad that I’m moving out from living with my friends.  They’ve been there for me through a lot of strange times and I have a lot of fantastic memories with them.  On the other hand, I’m also very excited about having my own place and all of my belongings in one location.  I think the term bittersweet is appropriate for this one.

So where does this leave me?  Well, it certainly brings in a huge change to start out 2011, and I foresee it as a catalyst that will bring more changes and improvements in my life in the year to come.  “What are these changes?” you ask?

  • Cycling: This is a big one for me.  Last year I really discovered my love and passion for cycling and I really hope to take that to the next level this year.  I started out yesterday by getting back on my bike for an indoor trainer session.  I haven’t been on the bike in a couple weeks so it was nice to be back on the saddle.  I’ve already committed to riding the 100 mile event at Lake Tahoe with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  I also plan to ride the two-day MS150 ride again in the fall.  I did both of those last year, so this year I’m planning to take it to the next level by doing another 100 mile bike ride at some point in the year.  I haven’t nailed down the calendar yet, but there will be hundreds of miles logged on the bike in 2011.
  • Mountain Biking: I picked this one up late in the fall and I really discovered something new that I love.  My mountain biking buddies and I are planning to get some good riding done this spring and even doing some riding through the rest of this winter.  I’m really hoping to take my mountain biking skills up a notch from “Miserable” to “Serviceable.”
  • Homebrewing: I have a fantastic menu in the works for homebrews in 2011.  There’s already talk of a special Oktoberfest Bier that will be brewed in March in time for September-October events.  You can expect a special beer to be brewed on 11/11/11 (my buddy is doing a barleywine!).  In addition, I have an idea planted in my head to brew a special beer for a New Year’s Eve party next year with a name and theme centering around the end of the Mayan calendar.  That brew will be apocalyptic.  I’m also already pricing and planning out my kegging system to skip the whole bottling process for a number of beers.
  • Finances: I have tickets to go see Dave Ramsey in February.  I really intend to get my finances in check this year.  My finances are actually pretty solid right now, but I want them on LOCK DOWN.  I already have student loans I’m repaying for 25 years and a car loan.  I plan to have them paid off early.  I also plan to keep my investment accounts positioned well to build some money for retirement.  Someday I plan on having a family and a house and a goat or two.  I cannot manage those things ideally with tons of debt and wasted money.  Get it locked down!
  • Health: Like my friend over at Quarter Life Confused I really want 2011 to be about health.  Mental health, financial health, and bodily health.  This year is going to have a big focus on eating right.  Healthy, whole, unprocessed foods will abound.  I will be bringing my breakfast and cooking healthy dinners (I’m not giving up the beer though so don’t ask).  Both of these will also save money.  It’s a win-win.  Better food, more money in the pocket, feel better from eating healthy.  There’s really no downside here.
  • Blogging: I discovered how much I love writing in 2010, and 2011 will see more writing and hopefully improvements in my writing.  That’s where you come in.  If you don’t keep reading this then I don’t keep writing.  Now you’re trapped, suckers!
  • Career: I debated on whether I wanted to put this out there or not, but what the hell.  I’m not completely satisfied in my career (who is?).  I’m still just not sure what I want to be when I grow up.  I know I’m nearly 28 years old and I should be figuring this out, but I haven’t.  It’s just taking me some time to figure out what exactly I want to do with my life.  I think that’s okay though, and I think it’s normal.  In 2011 I really want to focus on figuring out where my future lies and how I can position myself to work towards my long-term career goals.

2011 is going to be a big year.  I’m really taking a holistic, big-picture view of my life and I’m trying to bring all the pieces together.  Healthy eating, healthy exercise, healthy finances, healthy career, and healthy yeast in my beer all equal up to a healthy mind and soul.  I can’t remember a time in my life where I’ve been this excited about the future and the coming year.  I can’t wait for all of the memories and experiences I will have in the new year with all of my loved ones.  I can’t wait for how much I will grow as a person in the new year.  And if the Mayans were right and 2012 really is the end of the world then I’m going out like a boss in 2011.

I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year and encourage you all to keep it in the big ring throughout 2011!

PS – I might be getting a dog in 2011…  Stay tuned.








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