Today's post is written by Cameron Von St. James. He came across An Arkie's Musings, and saw that fighting back against cancer was a priority here. He contacted me and offered to tell his story to my readers. We corresponded and he sent me his story. It is both compelling and informative. Here is his story of his personal battle with cancer as a caregiver.
I Fought Fears So My Wife Could Fight Cancer
by Cameron Von St. James
The most terrifying day of my life was November 21, 2005. It was that day that my wife Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, just three months after giving birth to our first and only daughter, Lily. My life was never the same after receiving that news, but in the years that we battled cancer, I learned lessons that will last me a lifetime.
Heather's reaction to the news was pure shock. She looked like she wasn't there anymore. When we were confronted with questions about her treatment and care options, I took over and answered for her. I had to. She was too scared, shocked into silences, and I didn't blame her. I knew she needed help, and I chose the best treatment option for us at the time, which was to travel to Boston to see Dr. David Sugarbaker, a renowned specialist in the treatment of mesothelioma. Travel was tough on us because we had a newborn daughter at the time, but it was just another obstacle for us to beat together.
During the first two months of our battle, our lives were utter chaos. I worked, took care of Lily at home, took care of the bills, and cared for Heather as she endured the hell of cancer. It was an emotionally draining time and I cried many nights, fearing that I wasn't doing enough, even though there were times when I knew I was doing too much. There was no choice. If we were going to beat this thing and raise Lily together, we had to do anything we could. Heather's energies were focused on getting well, mine were pulled in every other direction.
Medical bills soon piled up and financial pressures were at an all-time high. We had to travel to Boston for treatments and soon the bills were skyrocketing. For the first time in my life, I accepted financial help from family and friends when they offered it. In this war, anything went. We simply had to take every possible avenue of help that we could if we were going to make it. My strongest advice for any caregiver or cancer patient is to accept every offer of help that comes your way. There is no room for pride in a fight with cancer, and even the smallest offer of help, be it a meal, a shoulder to cry on or a kind word of encouragement, can be a weight lifted off your shoulders and at the very least will remind you that you’re not alone.
I'm so proud of Heather for what she endured during this time and the beautiful person she remained during it. Today, over seven years after her mesothelioma diagnosis she is cancer-free and healthy. Lily has her mother, something that I feared she wouldn't be able to experience.
Two years after Heather’s diagnosis, I returned to school to get my college degree, with the lessons I learned through my family’s fight against cancer. I received my degree in Information Technology and graduated with high honors. I was able to share some of these experiences during my graduation speech, an honor that I readily accepted when it came my way. The lessons I learned during Heather's battle with cancer are the most valuable of my life, and I shared them with my fellow graduates that day, telling them that within each of us is the strength to accomplish impossible things. Heather and Lily were in the audience to cheer me on, and that was the greatest reward of all.
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I was born in 1956 in Madison, Tennessee, while my parents were attending Madison College. I grew up along the Front Range in Colorado, attending schools in Longmont, Brighton, Boulder and Loveland, Colorado. Two years after graduating from Campion Academy, I married my sweetheart, Regina. We lived in Loveland, Colorado for six years before moving to Mena in western Arkansas.
I love the people of Mena and the friendly easy going way of life here. I have owned and operated my own business since moving to Mena. I enjoy the natural beauty of western Arkansas and being out of doors.
My newspaper column in The Mena Star, An Arkie’s Faith, premiered on January 7, 2016. In March 2017, I published my first book, titled An Arkie's Faith, using articles from the column.