Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Journey as a Cancer Caregiver - by Cameron Von St. James

Introduction - by Charles Barr

Being a Cancer Caregiver for a loved one or a spouse, for most, will be the hardest thing you will ever face in life.  Drastic swings in emotional and financial stability tear at every inch of your soul.  You tether yourself to loved ones and friends to keep from falling.  You desperately fight for the time to just accomplish what you absolutely have to accomplish....and your wants and desires are pushed to the side.  Whether you sport a healthy poker face or not, you are always scared that the worst could happen.  You have no choice but to hold on to any bit of hope you can find.  Among the hoards of horror stories about Cancer also comes stories of true inspiration that reinforce hope and help cast out the fear that can eat you alive.  

This is one of those stories.  

My Journey as a Caregiver

by Cameron Von St. James

Words can’t describe the feelings that came over both my wife, and me when we got the news. November 21, 2005 was the date when Heather’s doctor diagnosed her with cancer. Malignant pleural mesothelioma was the phrase he used, and our lives were changed forever. The diagnosis thrust me into the role of caregiver, a place I never thought I would be—certainly not at my age, with a 3-month old daughter at home. It was just a month before Christmas and we had been excitedly looking forward to spending it with Lily for the first time. However, this news threatened everything we had been looking forward to, and sent us down a long and difficult path to beating cancer.

Upon diagnosis, Heather’s doctor gave us three options for treatment: the university hospital, a regional hospital with all the credentials but no specific mesothelioma program, or a mesothelioma specialist in Boston. I looked over at my wife and realized I would be taking the role of caregiver even sooner than I has expected. She was shocked from her diagnosis, scared of what was to come, and in no condition to make a decision about her care.  She looked to me and her eyes pleaded for help. I fell into a role I was in no way prepared to take. “Get us to Boston,” I said immediately.

If you have ever been close to someone diagnosed with cancer, you know that there is a stark line dividing your pre-diagnosis period and everything that comes after. A period of chaos descended on our lives, destroying our daily routines. Heather left her job and I reduced my own workload to part-time, in order to be there to care for her and Lily. My life became a wheel with three spokes: working, traveling to doctor’s appointments in Boston, and caring for Lily and Heather. Friends and family supported us in every way they could, both financially and emotionally. My gratitude is a debt I can never repay.

Even with help, however, taking the role of caregiver is far from easy. There were days when I felt I could not go on. I pushed through, but sometimes I wonder how. I tried to keep the worst emotions—anger and fear—from overwhelming me. I hid my weakness from Heather and our daughter, knowing my role was to stay strong. Most of all, I never gave up hope. In the end, it was this fervent, determined hope that kept us afloat during the dark times.

At long last, it paid off. Successfully completing mesothelioma surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, Heather conquered the disease. Today, seven years after her diagnosis, she is completely cancer free.

It’s hard to look at an ordeal like that and find any silver linings, but I can’t deny that it changed my life. Your time here can be finished in the blink of an eye. If there are any unforgivable sins, surely wasting that precious time is among the worst. I went back to school for Information Technology, using my newfound stress and time management abilities to succeed. I graduated with honors and was chosen to be the speaker for my graduating class. I told them the truth — that I never would have expected to be standing on that stage after my wife’s cancer diagnosis just a few years before. I told them that they must never lose hope and I tried to make them realize that our only limits are the ones we place on ourselves. Inside of each one of us is the strength to accomplish incredible things, if we only just believe in ourselves and never stop fighting for what, or who we love. 


  1. This was a great and inspiring story, CW. Thank you for sharing it. I can only pray that you and Melissa, both, hold hope near and keep up the fight of her life. I know y'all are both strong & are fighters! Thank you for loving my daughter the way that you do. ~M

  2. aging parentCaregiver Space. The work we do at The Caregiver Space stems from our commitment to ensuring caregivers feel seen, heard and most of all supported.