Cancer: From a Caregiver’s Perspective

This story came courtesy of Cameron St. James.

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After my wife, Heather’s diagnosis, I struggled immensely. I could only imagine what she was going through as a cancer patient, and she can only imagine how I coped as a caregiver. I really only talked to her once about my experiences, as it was difficult to put my feelings into words, but I hope to share more through this forum with families that are experiencing similar battles with cancer.

We had our first child three months prior to her diagnosis. Our daughter Lily brought us great joy, but my wife’s diagnosis brought us uncertainty and fear. I remember the exact day the doctors told us of her diagnosis.  She had pleural mesothelioma, a rare and extremely deadly form of cancer. I looked into my wife’s eyes that were filled with tears, and I wondered, “How are we going to get through this?”

I was incredibly overwhelmed. I felt like I might have a breakdown. When I heard the doctors asking questions about my wife’s future medical choices, I was brought back to reality. This was the first of many days that I felt emotionally inundated with grief, but I still had to make difficult decisions with my wife.

After my wife’s diagnosis, I was full of fear, anger and rage. I was so angry that I often communicated with others only by using profanity. It was difficult to control my emotions and I even used profane language with members of the church and the medical community who were only trying to help us. With time, I learned to channel my anger and control my emotions. I did it because I had to remain strong for my daughter and wife. My family was depending on me, and I didn’t want them to see my fears. Though it was “easier said than done,” I had to continue to be stable and optimistic.

After the diagnosis, there were many days that I had so many tasks on my to-do list that I didn’t know how I would complete it. My to-do lists consisted of tasks for work, caring for my daughter, travel arrangements and caring for our pets, all on top of caring for Heather and supporting her through her difficult journey. I had to learn to prioritize my lists, because I was overwhelmed.

In addition to prioritizing my day, I needed help, and I had to learn how to accept help from others. I am not sure what I would have done if I had not have had the help of these people in my life, but even with their help, I felt overwhelmed many days.

For two months after Heather’s surgery in Boston, I was away from my wife and my daughter. Heather and Lily flew to South Dakota to visit with her parents and to recover from her surgery. She was preparing for her next round of mesothelioma treatments, which included chemotherapy and radiation, and her parents took great care of her while she recuperated. I was at home working while she was visiting, and during this time, I was only able to see Heather and Lily one time.

After work on a Friday, I drove through a snowstorm for 11 hours to visit Lily and Heather. I arrived on Saturday morning exhausted after having slept in the car a few hours. I spent the rest of Saturday and the morning of Sunday visiting before I made the trip back home to be at work Monday morning.

If was difficult to be away from them, but it was the best choice for our situation. I couldn’t take care of Heather and Lily, and work to support our family. I don’t regret the decision, but I was thankful we still had the ability to make that kind of a decision. I learned to accept help and maintain control in a time of uncertainty.  Through it all, Heather has defied the odds and is still healthy to this day, over six years after her diagnosis.  I hope that our story can be a source of hope and help for families enduring difficult battles with cancer.

– Cameron St. James

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About writingforrecovery

Sarah is a writer and poet who speaks out about issues that make people uncomfortable. Sarah advocates for causes such a sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and mental illness, and often speaks openly about her own experiences. She is determined to abolish the stigma associated with these issues and believes that it starts with people telling their stories, so she started a blog called Writing for Recovery where people can do just that. She is the author of three volumes of poetry and is currently at work on her fourth. She is convinced that there's a novel somewhere in her, and occasionally picks at the chapters so far. View all posts by writingforrecovery

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