Monday, December 10, 2012

Guest Post: Fighting Cancer With My New Family

Today's post is a very special installment, a guest post from Cameron Von St. James (bio below). So, without any further ado...

My wife has said on several occasions that she doesn't know how hard it was for me to deal with life after she was diagnosed with mesothelioma. I hope to share more in this article with both Heather, as well as anyone else currently struggling through a similar situation, in the hopes that they can take some lessons away from my experiences.

Heather was diagnosed just three months after the birth of our first and only child, Lily. Our joy and excitement about the future of our new family was stripped away in an instant when we got the news from Heather’s doctor – she had cancer. I looked at my wife as the tears welled up in her eyes, and in that moment I had no idea how we would every make it through this.

I used a lot of profanity following Heather’s diagnosis. I was angry at the world for putting my family in this cruel and unfair situation. It didn't take me long to realize how selfish I was being. I realized that the last thing my wife needed was to see how scared I really was. I had to get it together and be strong for my wife and daughter, but it was hard. It took a while for me to accomplish that, but I was finally able to be the rock that Heather needed.

My days were so overwhelming, though. I suddenly had a whole new list of responsibilities, and it took a while to adjust. I had to work, make travel arrangements and appointments for my wife’s medical care, and care for my family, house, and pets. I was so stressed. I learned that I couldn't do it all without the help of our friends and family. We were so blessed to have them offer their help, and we are still so blessed to have them in our lives. I couldn't have done it without them.

It was all hard, but by far the most difficult part was being away from my family for two months. I wanted to be Heather’s caregiver while she recovered from her extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery in Boston, but I couldn't give her the care she needed and work at the same time. We had to make a very difficult decision. That decision was to send Heather to stay with her parents in South Dakota while she recovered and prepared for her radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Lily had already been staying there during Heather’s operation, which left me at home, alone, to work and take care of our home.

I only saw them one time during this two-month period. I drove to them one Friday night after work. I drove overnight and through a late season snowstorm, and got to spend all day Saturday with them. I was exhausted, but I had to get back in my car and drive home on Sunday so that I could work on Monday morning. It was not easy for me to be away from them, but I don’t regret it at all. I know that we were just so lucky to even have the ability to make such a difficult decision, and I learned to take comfort in that fact.

It’s been more than six years, and despite the odds initially stacked against her, Heather is healthy again. I learned so much from this time in our lives. The most important thing I learned was the importance of a strong and loving community. We could not have done this without all the help our friends and family gave us. I am so blessed and so thankful for them. I also learned to never allow myself to regret any of the difficult decisions we were forced to make during this trying time. Instead, we learned to take comfort in the fact that we retained some small amount of control over a situation that often seem completely out of our control. I hope that with what I've shared I can help another family who is going through a similar cancer situation.It’s not easy, but it is doable.

Cameron is husband to Heather Von St. James, survivor advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, and father to  Lily Rose. He, along with Heather and young Lily, had their world's turned upside down when Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, just 3 1/2 months after the birth of his only child. When faced with the very real possibility of raising Lily on his own, he fought alongside Heather in her battle with mesothelioma. It was his determination and refusal to compromise on doctors or treatments that led them to Boston to receive radical surgery from esteemed mesothelioma surgeon, David Sugarbaker. Heather continues to thrive 6 years later.

Through out the next few years, while being a caregiver to Heather and dad to Lily, Cameron returned to school full time to finish his degree. He worked full time, went to school full time and graduated with high honors at the top of his class in June of 2010 with a Bachelors of Science in Information Technology. He was soon offered a position at US Bank as Network Analyst and continues to pursue his career.

Like Heather, Cameron is passionate about bringing awareness to mesothelioma and the dangers of asbestos exposure. It is his hope that sharing his story will help others those battling cancer and their caregivers who provide them care and guidance in their journey.

1 comment:

  1. Very very inspiring. And honest. Thank you for that.