How my Family Survived my Wife’s Battle with Cancer


I’m always excited whenever I get a like, a new follower or a new viewer to my blog, it’s another link in the Alzheimer’s awareness chain but also in the Caregiving awareness chain. Today’s guest post comes from Cameron Von St. James who wanted to share his story as a caregiver to his wife Heather who my wife was diagnosed with an extremely rare and deadly cancer called mesothelioma and today is cancer free! You may follow Heather on twitter at @HeatherVSJ.

How my Family Survived my Wife’s Battle with Cancer by Cameron Von St. James

My wife often remarks that she doesn’t know how I survived after she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, and I confess that I haven’t shared my experiences with her in much detail. I hope to share our story here, however, for the benefit of those currently battling through cancer.

Our daughter Lily was born just three months before her diagnosis. Our time of great happiness and excitement at the thought of what the future held for our new little family quickly turned to a period of stress and fear. To this day, I can still hear the doctor uttering the word, “mesothelioma.” As my wife cried and I tried to comfort her, I thought to myself, “How will we survive this?” CVS 1

Feeling overcome with grief, I thought I was going to lose my composure, but the doctor’s questions about our future medical decisions helped me to collect my bearings once again. This was just the first time that I would feel as if the world was coming down around me at the same time that I had to remain grounded and help make good decisions for my family.

I was so enraged after hearing the diagnosis and afraid for what the future held. I didn’t always handle these feelings in a positive manner and was reduced to spewing profanity when talking to others. After a little time passed, I learned to manage my emotions better. I was the only one my wife and daughter had to rely on. They needed me. It wasn’t easy, but I did my very best to be the pillar of strength my wife needed. I didn’t want her to witness any of my breakdowns. It was my duty to be her support and to help foster a sense of optimism and stability in her.

The list of things that I had to do during the day seemed to be impossibly long at first. I took care of the baby, the pets, continued to work and made sure that my wife could be everywhere she needed to go. It seemed like an impossible task, but I learned to prioritize and take my list on one item at a time, and this helped keep me from becoming overwhelmed. I also learned over time to accept the many offers of help extended to us by our friends and family. It was a real blessing to have so many people willing to offer their assistance to us during those days. If I hadn’t had as many caring people at that time, I don’t know if I would have made it.

Heather knows that the two-month period following her surgery was the hardest of all for me.  Following her mesothelioma surgery in Boston, Heather went to stay in South Dakota with her parents, in order to rest and recover, as well as prepare for her next round of treatments: chemotherapy and radiation.  Lily had already been staying in South Dakota during the operation, which left me home alone to work and take care of our house.  As difficult as it was to be her caregiver up until this point, being away from my wife and daughter during this period was so much harder.  In the entire two months they were gone, I was able to see them only once.

One Friday after work, I drove 11 hours to see them, overnight and through an unexpected snowstorm.  I got a few hours of sleep in my car while the plows cleared the roads, and I showed up exhausted on Saturday morning.  I spent a few hours with them on Saturday and Sunday, but I had to drive back home on all too soon to get to work on Monday. It was a lot of exhausting travel for a few precious hours with them, but it was worth every second.

The most important lesson that I learned was that I had to accept help from others. I also learned that although having to make difficult decisions was very hard at this time, it was a way of managing to exert some control over our situation. We made it through this challenging time when the chances of survival were slim, and Heather is still here and healthy, six years after first being diagnosed. My hope is that this story will encourage others in their fight to win their own battles with cancer.

Cameron is husband to mesothelioma survivor Heather Von St. James.  Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma on November 21, 2005 at the age of 36, just three days before Thanksgiving and three and a half months after giving birth to their daughter Lily.  Despite a troubling prognosis, Heather overcame her cancer and is healthy and cancer free seven years later.  She and Cameron now perform advocacy for mesothelioma patients and try to share a message of hope with all those battling cancer today.


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