Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Caregiving Lessons Learned in the Battle Against Cancer

Today I welcome Cameron Von St. James’ guest post. Although his caregiving role was with his young wife, he learned lessons we can apply when caring for our aging parents. His hope that his wife would recover is one we can sometimes share, if our loved one’s medical issues are curable. If not, hope is still important—we hope we are giving them the most loving end of life possible. And that means practicing the lessons Cameron shares here.

Caregiving Lessons
by Cameron Von St. James

My entire life changed on November 21, 2005. That was the day my wife, Heather, was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, and I became her caregiver. Our only child, Lily, was born just three months earlier, and we were totally unprepared for the diagnosis and the changes it would make in our lives.

That day, our doctor recommended we see a specialist for treatment options. We had three choices, one of which was a specialist in Boston. I looked toward Heather to gauge her reaction, but she sat silent in disbelief and shock. I stepped in and told our doctor we would go to Boston, making one of the first of many decisions regarding Heather's health.

Our daily routines changed drastically that day. Heather had to stop working, and I worked less hours. After work, I spent my time caring for Lily, traveling to Boston and accompanying Heather to her doctor's appointments. I soon felt overwhelmed, worried that I would lose my wife and all our financial resources, ending up homeless and caring for Lily alone. I felt helpless, but I had to be strong for Heather.

Family, friends and even strangers lightened our financial and emotional burdens. They offered us so much help, and we learned to say, “yes” to every offer. I learned the hard way that there is no room for pride when a loved one’s life is on the line.  We will never be able to thank those who helped us enough.

Being a caregiver is hard, and the experience is filled with stress, chaos and uncertainty. Unlike many other challenges, you cannot just walk away from it when it gets tough. You cannot let anxiety or anger take over, and you have to keep hoping every day. Rely on all the resources you have to keep focused and stay on the right path through the challenges. If I could leave you with a few simple tips to take away, they would be to accept every offer of help, take care of yourself and your own health, take time for yourself so as not to get completely burnt out, and to never, ever give up hope.

Our lives did not become somewhat normal again for years. Heather beat the cancer, and she has been in remission from mesothelioma for seven years.

The experience taught me that time is precious, so I went back to school to study Information Technology and get my degree. The lessons I learned as a caregiver helped me succeed in school, and I spoke at my graduation ceremony. I talked about never giving up hope and realizing that if you believe in yourself, you can do anything.  Heather and Lily were in attendance, and that was the greatest reward of all.