(Guest article by Cameron von St. James)
I often go back to November 21st, 2005 when my wife and I faced something we never thought would happen. Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. While I didn't know what to do at the time, I knew that I was no longer just a husband and father. I was also a caregiver for someone who had cancer. I couldn't believe that this diagnosis was happening to us, and it was especially difficult because our daughter was still just a newborn. We had only celebrated her birth three months prior to receiving the news.
In the doctor's office, I saw my family falling apart and the tears in my wife's eyes. It was a very hard moment that made me instantly understand what I had to do. I had to be there for my family no matter what. I had to make tough decisions and become a caregiver that would hold my wife's hand and heart along this difficult road. The doctor gave us some options for treatment. He suggested a few hospitals close by, but neither of these had a specialist in Heather’s form of cancer. That's what we needed. He knew of a specialist in Boston named Dr. David Sugarbaker. There was only one choice for my family. I said "Get us to Boston," and we began a long journey towards a healthy family.
The next few months after that were spent in havoc for me. It was a constant struggle to handle the newborn and care for my wife. It was all I could do to juggling the responsibilities of being a caregiver, while also holding down my job to keep us afloat through this whole process. The weight of everything plagued me from day to day, but I managed to work through it. I knew that I had to be strong for my family. No matter what I thought of at night trying to sleep, I had to believe that my wife was going to be okay and that somehow we would make it out okay.
It was around these dark days that some saving grace appeared. My wife's family had always been generous, but I really didn't know how to thank them at first for coming through and taking care of Lily. They also helped to pay off some of the medical bills and really provide a shelter for my troubled mind as well as my wife's recovering body. I will never forget what they did for us and how it changed my family's life.
My strongest advice to anyone going through their own cancer journey is to accept every offer of help that comes your way. I had to learn the hard way that there is no room for pride in a cancer battle. Once I accepted this, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders.
Over the following months, Heather would undergo mesothelioma surgery, chemotherapy and radiation in order to fight this terrible disease. Despite the odds against her, at the end of it all she came out alive, healthy and cancer free. She remains that way to this day, over seven years after her diagnosis. We now hope that by sharing our story, we can help inspire others in their own cancer journeys, to never give up hope and always keep fighting for the ones they love.
Cameron Von St. James
Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance