February 15, 2013

GUEST POST: A Cancer Survival Story by Cameron Von St. James

I recently got an email from Cameron Von St. James, who publishes the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog. His wife Heather is a survivor, after being diagnosed with mesothelioma seven years ago. Cameron wrote: "We struggled through so many hardships during this tough time, but found a way to make it through. I'd love to share our story of hope with your readers who might take something away from it."

Happy to oblige, Cameron. And all the best wishes to you, Heather, and daughter Lily.

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I still remember the day, almost eight years ago now, when my wife Heather was diagnosed with cancer, malignant pleural mesothelioma. It was a surreal moment and a feeling that terrified me to the center of my being. I realized I didn't know much about cancer or what it meant to be someone's caregiver. All I knew was that the road ahead was going to be difficult, and it seemed like we had just been in the midst of bliss, celebrating the birth of our first child, Lily. While we had been making arrangements for her first holidays, we learned that a life might be taken away from our family. 

Being a caregiver for someone with cancer is unlike anything I have had to do before. It started as we were still in the doctor's office. I remember listening to the doctor and thinking what are we going to do, but when I looked at my wife, I had to be strong because she was terrified that this was happening to her. The doctor gave us three options, but he made a point that we needed to see a specialist. There were local hospitals, but neither of them had a special program for this type of cancer. He suggested a specialist in Boston, and that was all I needed to hear. We were going to Boston no matter what it took.

Everything was in disarray for a while after that. I was still working all the time, but I was also taking care of my wife and a newborn. It was difficult and sometimes, barely manageable. I couldn't help but let the fears creep in. I had visions of myself as a widowed single father, broke and raising a daughter who would never know her own mother. I didn't know what we were going to do, and I spent nights awake just dreading the morning and trying to figure out a solution to all of the mounting bills and praying that it wouldn’t all be for nothing, that Heather would pull through and live to see her daughter grow up.

Heather's family came to visit during the holidays, and they helped us with anything that they could. At first, it was childcare, but seeing the toll of treatment upon our finances, they also helped us take care of some of our bills and make it less of a burden. Friends came through for us as well. I'll never forget the way it felt to have so many people support you and desire to help you see a brighter day. For that, I will always be thankful.

After months of intense and grueling treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Heather defied the odds and beat mesothelioma, a rare feat accomplished by far too few people. My prayers were answered and she has been able to see our baby girl grow up into a beautiful young woman. It's been over seven years since we received the terrible diagnosis, and Heather is healthy and cancer free to this day. We now hope that by sharing our story, we can help inspire others in their own battles with cancer today.



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