The Stresses of a Cancer Patient’s Caregiver

A big thank you to our guest contributor Cameron Von St. James!

I never knew fully what my wife, Heather was going through after her diagnosis with mesothelioma, just as she could never really know what I was going through either.  I hardly spoke to her about it as it was difficult to put my feelings into words, but it is important to share my experience with others who are experiencing similar hardships.

Our lives were filled with joy at the birth of our first child, Lily but that elation was short-lived when my wife received the devastating diagnosis three months later.  I think back to that moment in the doctor’s office when we heard “mesothelioma” for the first time. We couldn’t imagine how we would survive this as my wife’s eyes swelled up with tears.

The diagnosis first made me feel extreme anger and fury, although I didn’t know who or what I was angry at.  These feelings welled up within me to the point that I could not talk to anyone else except through that rage, including people closest to me in the community and church.  I finally realized I had to be there for my wife and daughter, so my anger and fears subsided in time.  After all, my family needed me.  It is not to say that I did not still have my moments, privately, so my wife could continue to feel that I am the strong person she can always depend upon.

This distressing news felt overwhelming and difficult to handle, with a grim prognosis.  Emotionally drained, I had to be there for Heather and help her make life-changing decisions to save her from this cancer.

I didn’t know where to start with my lengthy to-do list once we made the choice to seek other medical help.  I was never very organized and had to prioritize my tasks, while caring for Heather, my daughter Lily and the pets. I still had to work and make travel arrangements. I was so overwhelmed and learned it was acceptable to let others help me when they offered. We have been blessed with so many friends and a caring family to help us through this stressful time in our lives. But even with all of them, I still felt very alone at times.

The two months after Heather’s surgery in Boston were difficult for me, and she never knew exactly what I was going through as her rock.   I was alone with my stress as Heather and Lily were staying with my in-laws in South Dakota to recover.  Heather’s next step was in preparation for round two of her mesothelioma treatment: chemotherapy and radiation.  I had to return home to work and saw my family only once during that time.

It was difficult for me to be away from them so I decided to drive the 11 hours to see them at the end of my work week one Friday.  It was a long and stressful trip for me in the middle of a snowstorm and my only rest was a few hours in my car, hoping the roads would be clearer as I continued on my way.  I finally arrived on Saturday morning, getting only a few hours to spend with Lily and Heather before jumping back in the car Sunday night, as I had to be back at work on Monday.

I hated the separation from my wife and child but knew it was in my family’s best interest.  Because I had to work, I could not give Heather the time and care she needed that her parents could provide.  Looking back, I have no regrets. I learned that it was fine to accept the help of others and ease some of my pressures and stress. It was a long road with difficult choices after a diagnosis of cancer. But at least there were choices.  I did all I could to be the strength and support for my wife and family during this time of doubt.  Through it all, Heather has beat the odds and remains healthy to this day, over six years later.