Cameron Von St. James is the husband of mesothelioma survivor Heather Von St. James. Cameron has written about his experiences in the past (including this piece in the Huffington Post) and works hard to spread the word about mesothelioma and cancer support generally. I have been wanting to share stories of patients and caregivers on this blog, so when Cameron contacted me about helping to spread the word, it seemed like a good opportunity to do so. Here is Cameron’s story:
My Life As My Wife’s Caregiver
I’ve only talked with my wife Heather once about what I went through as her caregiver and with this article, I hope to share more. My wife Heather was diagnosed with pleural malignant mesothelioma at the age of 36, just three short months after giving birth to our daughter Lily. Heather was exposed to asbestos when she was a little girl. Her father worked in the construction business and would come home with his jacket covered in white dust. Unbeknownst to Heather, that jacket was covered in asbestos. It was her favorite jacket to put on to go outside in the cold South Dakota winters. Her favorite jacket would later become her worst nightmare.
Three months before Heather’s mesothelioma diagnosis, we celebrated the birth of our only child, Lily. We went from being fantastically happy to scared and uncertain. I remember the morning her doctor said the word “mesothelioma” for the first time. It was like our whole world came crashing down. We went from the excitement of having a new baby to a cancer diagnosis.
Immediately after the diagnosis rage consumed me, then came the frustration and devastating fear. At times, I couldn’t speak without cursing and swearing, but I understood I had to be strong for my wife and our daughter. I never wanted my wife to see my doubts. I needed to be her source of confidence and security.
There were numerous days when I felt so defeated having so much on my plate. I had to cope with everything, from my job and the constant traveling, to caring for our daughter and looking after our pets. I tried to focus on the most important tasks and I realized I needed to accept those offers from others. We were fortunate and I don’t know what I would have done without the people we call friends. Still, despite all of the help, at times I felt weighed down with obligations.
Just after her surgery in Boston, Heather went to South Dakota for a visit with her parents. She was recouping and getting ready for the next stage of treatment, chemotherapy and radiation. Our daughter also stayed there while I was working to support our family and trying to maintain our home. Two months passed and during this time I only saw Heather and Lily once. It became very difficult not being able to be with them during this difficult time. But, I needed to support them back at home while Heather was recovering.
One Friday after work, I drove all night in the middle of a snowstorm to be able to see them. I took only a short nap in the car while waiting for the plows to clear the roads. When I finally got there on Saturday morning I was exhausted. I spent the day and a few hours on Sunday morning with them before having to leave again. Then I drove the 11 hours back to our home in Roseville, Minnesota without stopping, to be at work on Monday morning.
It was hard being apart from my wife and daughter, but I couldn’t work and care for Lily at the same time. The tough decisions we had to make are simply things we had to endure. The cancer complicated most of our options, but I am comfortable knowing we still have choices and decisions to make together.
By Cameron Von St. James