A Guest Blog: What I Learned from Being a Caregiver

The following is a guest blog from another spouse-caregiver that contacted me. I found this encouraging and hope you do as well no matter what “caregiver” roll you have in a person’s life. Thank you for reaching out Cameron!

By Cameron Von St. James

I will never forget that day in November when we received devastating news about my wife.  It was November 21, 2005, and the doctors told us that she had malignant pleural mesothelioma.  I knew that she would need my help, and I was more than willing to step up and be her caregiver while she went through treatments and recovered.  However, I had no idea what I was in for as I tried to continue being the primary wage earner, my wife’s caregiver and the primary care provider for our infant daughter.  We were supposed to be getting ready for Lily’s first Christmas, but our lives swiftly dissolved into chaos.

I knew before ever walking out of the doctor’s office that I was going to have a lot on my plate.  As I looked at my wife and saw her struggling with the news, I had to step up and listen to the doctor.  I had to be strong for her, and that meant listening to the doctor outline treatment options and choosing the best one.  This fell largely on me as Heather was numb and in complete shock, unable to process anything.  We were given three options to consider.  The first was a local facility with an excellent reputation but no expertise in mesothelioma.  The second was the local university hospital.  The third was a specialist in Boston.  Dr. David Sugarbaker is one of the top specialists in the country with mesothelioma treatments, but that meant that Heather would be away from home for treatment, lots of travel, and even more uncertainty.  I could see the fear and confusion on her face, and I instantly made the decision to go to Boston.  It was our best chance at her beating the cancer and recovering, and I knew that I would do anything to help my wife survive.

The following months were incredibly difficult for both of us.  Daily routines were forgotten as we struggled to make all the arrangements for Heather’s treatment in Boston.  Before the diagnosis, we had both been working full-time.  After, she could not work at all, and I could only work part-time.  My days were consumed with doctor’s appointments, making travel arrangements and trying to care for Lily.  I was overwhelmed with the incredible lists of tasks and chores to be done.  We were devastated emotionally and financially, and I lived in constant fear that my wife would die, we would lose everything and wind up being unable to care for our daughter.  There were times the fear would become paralyzing, and there were other times I curled into a ball and gave in to the tears.  However, I could get the feelings of helplessness and despair to pass by focusing on what I had to do in order to help Heather and Lily.  Keeping my focus on them allowed me to stay strong, and I made sure that my family never saw my moments of weakness.  They needed a rock, and I was determined to be that rock.

We were very fortunate to receive help from family, friend and even strangers.  Comforting words were offered, and financial assistance allowed us to keep our heads above water.  The best advice I can offer other caregivers is to accept help when it is offered.  Whether people are dropping off meals, helping you clean the house or providing daycare for the kids, allow them to help you in any way they can.  It will make it easier for you to remain strong.

There is no doubt that being a caregiver is difficult and emotionally draining.  It is chaotic and stressful.  You will experience moments of despair and times when you question everything you are going through.  Accept that there will be bad days and try to just work through them.  Most important, always maintain hope that things will improve.

Heather went through her mesothelioma surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.  Against all odds, she beat the disease, and things gradually returned to normal.  Seven years later, she remains cancer-free, and we are so thankful for that.

I learned many lessons while I was a caregiver for a sick wife and young child.  I learned asking for help is never a sign of weakness, and it’s important to let go of pride in the interest of being a better caregiver.  I also learned that we can deal with incredible burdens when we refuse to give up hope.  I discovered better ways to manage stress and an insanely busy schedule, and that knowledge helped me eventually finish my degree two years later.  When you find yourself in an impossible situation with an ailing loved one, remember that you are stronger than you think, and you are capable of accomplishing far more than you have ever dreamed

You can read more about Cameron’s journey at the link below:


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