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

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