Finding Strength To Fight Cancer


I want to thank Cameron Von St. James for sharing his family’s story of courage and fortitude in battling cancer.

My wife, Heather has said many times that it is hard for her to imagine what I went through as her caregiver after she was diagnosed with mesothelioma. We have not talked extensively about the experience, but I hope by writing my story, I am able to share more with her and anyone else currently struggling through a tough fight with cancer.

It was three months after the birth of our only child that we got the news. Mesothelioma was a term that brought fear and uncertainty into our lives during a time where we had only been feeling joy and excitement about the future of our new little family.  When the doctor informed us that my wife had cancer, I felt overwhelmed, but the immediate need to make critical life decisions forced me to focus.

My first thoughts after hearing the diagnosis were full of rage and anger. I was immediately angry at the world for putting my family in this cruel and unfair situation. I didn’t know how to harness the feelings. There were times when my communication with others was laced with profanity and anger. Eventually, I learned to control the fear that was overwhelming me. I knew that my wife and daughter needed me to be strong. I did not want them to sense my fear, as real as it was. My wife relied on me to be her rock of stability and optimism, and in time I was able to become that.

After the diagnosis, my workload included a long to-do list that ranged from work requirements to travel arrangements to taking care of my wife, my daughter, our home, the list seemed endless. I taught myself how to prioritize, so my focus was on the vital tasks. We were blessed with a strong support system. Many people offered help that I quickly learned to accept. Even with friends and family pitching in, I still was overwhelmed by the responsibilities, but managed to keep up with them as best I could.

Directly following her extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery in Boston, Heather was flown to South Dakota to stay with her parents and Lily, who had been staying there during the operation. Heather needed constant care as she recovered from her surgery and prepared for the next phase of her treatment, and I would not have been able to give her the care she needed while working full time to support us.  Therefore, we made the difficult decision to be apart for those two months while she recovered. During this two-month period, I only saw Heather and Lily once.

On one Friday after my workweek ended, I drove 11 hours through a snowstorm to spend time with my family. I arrived Saturday morning, so I had the weekend to rest and see them. Sunday afternoon I was back in the car for the 11-hour trip home. It was hard to be away from them, but it was the choice that made the most sense. I don’t have regrets about this decision. It was just one of many difficult choices I made, but I was glad were had options available.

If I learned anything from this difficult time, it was to accept offers of help from other people who cared. I also learned to never regret or second guess the tough decisions that cancer forced us to make. I could take comfort in the fact that we were able to make choices even if they were hard ones. Being able to plan put us in control in an uncertain time. Despite an overwhelming set of odds, Heather made a full recovery. Six years after the initial diagnosis, she is still healthy. I hope that our story of triumph and struggle will help others battling cancer.


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