When my wife Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma, I wasn’t sure how to react, and now when she asks about what I went through, I can only think of it as an emotional learning experience. With this, I hope to explain more about my role as a caregiver and the way our family pulled through such a rough time.
As I sat in the doctor’s office, hearing that my wife had mesothelioma, I couldn’t believe it. We had just celebrated the birth of our one and only child, Lily. How could such a moment of joy be crushed so swiftly? I looked into Heather’s face and felt tears begin to sting. I didn’t know how we were going to get through this.
On the verge of breaking down, I sat in the office as doctors began to raise questions over our options. We had to make medical choices that would affect so many things in the future. I didn’t know what were the right choices and couldn’t even really think about what we should do when I was so emotional. Still, we had to make those choices, overwhelming as they were. It was the first of many times during my wife’s mesothelioma treatment that I had to help make impossible decisions while facing emotional turmoil.
For a while, I was angry, and I lashed out with profanity for no particular reason. I realized that I had to stop acting this way if I was going to be a pillar of strength for my family. Heather and Lily needed me as a rock, and I couldn’t let them see how scared I really was. Over time, I learned how to be the stable source of hope and optimism that my family needed.
After the diagnosis, every day was a full day of making those tough decisions. I had to learn to prioritize or I could never get everything done. Without the help of friends and family, I think that I wouldn’t have finished anything on those to-do lists. I’m so grateful for the wonderful people in our lives that reached out to us in our time of need and truly made a difference.
The most difficult time for me was when I didn’t see my wife or daughter at all for weeks on end. For two months, I worked and lived alone, as my wife underwent surgery in Boston, and then went to stay with her parents in South Dakota, where Lily had been during the operation. The surgery was very risky and invasive, but if successful would greatly improve my wife’s mesothelioma prognosis. My wife stayed in South Dakota to recover and prepare for the next phase of her mesothelioma treatment, which included radiation and chemotherapy. I, on the other hand, had to remain behind to work and take care of our home. It was torture to be away from them for so long, but it was the right choice for my family at the time. There was no way I would have been able to provide Heather and Lily with the care they needed, while still working to support my family. Of all the tough decisions that cancer forced on us, this was by far the hardest.
The one time I got to see them, I almost didn’t make it. I drove 11 hours in a snowstorm, sleeping in my car for a few hours while the plows cleared the roads, just to see them for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday before heading back to work on Monday. It was a long grueling trip for a few precious hours with them, but it was worth every second.
It was difficult not to see my family, but I never regret the decisions that were made. I learned valuable lessons throughout my experience. I learned how to control my emotions, accept help from others and take comfort in being able to make tough decisions. Today, my wife is healthy six years later and we have a beautiful family. I can only say thank you to those who helped and hope that others can pull through as well as we did.
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Submitted by guest editor Cameron Von St. James