One of the wonderful things about having cancer (and yes there are some good things) is the opportunity to meet people who otherwise would have gone unknown. People who have, or have had, cancer form a kind of family or club of fellow fighters. While it is not the club I would have joined voluntarily, I am very blessed by many of it’s members. So many people have shared their cancer stories with me. I am encouraged and honored to join with them as we celebrate the victories, support the ongoing battle, and lift each other up.
One story I have heard recently comes from Cameron Von St. James. He shared with me the story of his wife’s battle with mesothelioma and his role as her caregiver. I had never heard of mesothelioma and was saddened to learn of this form of cancer. He asked if he could share his story on my blog and I am happy to help him get the word out. Here it is:
Learning to Accept Help as a Caregiver
My wife knows that her treatment of mesothelioma was extremely difficult for me. She’s said that she cannot imagine what I went through, and I really haven’t talked about that time with anyone. However, I hope that I can help others by sharing that experience now.
It was supposed to be the happiest time of our lives. Our daughter Lily was only three months old when my wife was diagnosed with this very deadly disease. I still remember the first time I heard the doctors say the dreaded word. I remember my wife and I looking at each other through our tears as we tried to comprehend the news and understand what our futures might hold.
My wife was silently crying, and I was sitting there trying to choke back the tears. When the doctors started talking about future medical options, I knew I had to come back to the present and deal with the situation. I loved my wife, and the news shattered me emotionally. I was overwhelmed and scared, but I knew I needed to pull it together to help my wife make the difficult decisions that were awaiting us.
After the diagnosis, I was filled with rage at the unfairness of it. There were times when the only words I seemed to know were too profane for polite company. While my language seemed outside of my control, I was able to take charge of my emotions. I knew that I had to be strong for Lily and Heather. I tried to break down only when I was alone, so my wife wouldn’t be burdened with my pain. I was determined to be a source of strength and comfort for her.
My life seemed impossibly busy after the diagnosis. In addition to working to support the family, I also had travel arrangements for her care, I needed to figure out who would watch the pets and make arrangements for Lily. It was incredibly overwhelming initially, but I soon learned how to prioritize the important tasks and let the rest go. I also learned how to accept help from others. We are blessed with many caring family members and friends who were happy to help us. I don’t know what I would have done without them, and yet I still wasn’t sure how I would get through that impossible time.
There was one two-month period when Heather had no idea what I had gone through. Lily was staying with her parents in South Dakota, and she had gone to Boston for her surgery. After her surgery, she flew out to her parents to recover and prepare for the coming round of chemotherapy and radiation, the next steps in her mesothelioma treatment. I was out of my mind without my family around, and I only saw them once during that entire long period.
I looked forward anxiously to the visit. I left immediately after work one Friday, driving through the long night and a snowstorm. It was eleven hours of misery, and I slept a few hours in the car while I waited for plows to clear the road. Arriving Saturday morning, I was exhausted. I spent a precious day and a half with my family before driving back home on Sunday afternoon.
I refuse to view this time as an unhappy loss in my life. I know that it was the best choice for my family. I wouldn’t have been able to care for Lily, and keep up with my job. It was one of those impossible choices we had to make in order to save Heather and keep our family whole. I had to let go of the desire to do it all myself, and I will always appreciate my in-laws for being willing to take care of Lily and Heather. My family is still here as a result, and I will always be thankful for that.