Cameron Von St. James‘ wife was diagnosed with mesothelioma and he became her primary caregiver, in addition to caring for their infant daughter. Happily, Cameron’s wife beat cancer and their lives have returned to more or less normal. Here, he writes about how his experiences caring for his wife helped him to become a better person.
My Wife Beat Cancer
November 21, 2005 was a day that would change my life forever. My wife was
diagnosed with mesothelioma that day. I never imagined that I would walk out of
the doctor’s office and become a caregiver for my wife. Just three months earlier,
we had celebrated the birth of our first and only child, Lily. What should have been
a joyous and happy time for our new family quickly became a time of fear and
I remember sitting in the doctor’s office while the doctor explained mesothelioma.
He told us of three different places that he would recommend to go for treatment.
Heather was shocked and paralyzed with fear, unable to make a decision about her
treatment. Her eyes pleaded for help, so without hesitating I turned to the doctor
and told him that we would see treatment with a renowned mesothelioma specialist
in Boston by the name of David Sugarbaker. My gut told me that he was Heather’s
best chance for survival. It was just the first of many impossible decisions that we
would be asked to make over the following months.
Everything was a nightmare for the next two months. Our daily routines were
turned upside down. I was no longer able to work my full-time job while caring for
Heather and Lily. Instead, I had to cut back to part-time hours, and Heather had to
give up her job altogether. This put an incredible strain on our finances and only
added to our stressful situation. I spent my days taking my wife to different doctor
appointments going back and forth to Boston, trying to take care of Lily while fearing
the worst. I knew that it was very important for me to remain strong in Heather’s
presence, but on my own I frequently broke down under the pressure. I had bad
moments, of course, but always tried to hide them from Heather. After all, I needed
to be there for her and the last thing she needed was to know just how scared I truly
We were very fortunate to have family and even strangers to help us with finances,
and even just a shoulder to cry on. My strongest advice for anyone going through a
situation like this is to accept every offer of help that comes your way. I learned the
hard way that there is no room for pride or stubbornness in a fight with cancer. Even
the smallest offer of help can be a weight off your shoulders, and will remind you that
you are not alone in this fight.
Over the following months, Heather would undergo intense and difficult treatment
for mesothelioma, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Despite the
frightening odds against her, she was able to make it through and beat her cancer.
It’s been seven years since her devastating diagnosis, and Heather continues to be
healthy and cancer free to this day.
I learned so much about myself through this experience. This is something that
helped me get myself through college when I went back to school to get my degree
two years after Heather’s diagnosis. I was able to graduate with honors and I was
even given the opportunity to speak at my graduation. During my speech, I told my
classmates that a few years earlier, I had never imagined I would be in that position.
I told them that if we just believe in ourselves and never give up hope, we could
accomplish incredible things. Heather and Lily were in the audience to cheer me on,
and that was the greatest reward of all.