Friday, March 22, 2013

Hope and Cancer

A few weeks ago I had a reader email me asking if he could share his story. Cameron's wife is a cancer survivor and he wanted to share the struggles and victories as a caregiver in the fight against cancer.

Here is his story.

Hope and Cancer

My wife Heather and I can agree that November 21, 2005, was the worst day of our lives. It is the day that she learned that she had malignant pleural mesothelioma, and it is the day that I acquired a job that I was not prepared to take - the job of being a cancer caregiver. We had just celebrated the birth of our daughter Lily three months earlier, and had been happily enjoying the challenge of adjusting to new parenthood. Instead of getting ready to enjoy the holidays with our new little daughter as planned, our lives turned into complete chaos as we began a fight for Heather’s life.

When we were at the doctor’s office, I quickly realized the challenges of being my wife’s caregiver. Our doctor gave us a lot of background information about mesothelioma, and he told us what treatment options we could pursue. We could opt to go to the local hospital, a regional hospital, or a mesothelioma specialist. The specialist was located in Boston, and his name was Dr. David Sugarbaker. After giving us these choices, I waited for my wife to reply. As she sat in shock and disbelief, I knew that she needed help, and it would be up to me to be strong for her. I told the doctor that we were going to Boston.  I had to believe that if anyone could save my wife from this disease, it would be this specialist in Boston.

Over the next two months, our lives were really chaotic. All of our routines had been drastically altered. Heather and I had been accustomed to working full-time jobs, but once she received this diagnosis, she did not work at all, and I could only work part-time.  I had the responsibilities of caring for Heather, taking care of Lily, and making all of Heather’s appointments and travel arrangements. With so many responsibilities, I was overwhelmed. I found myself thinking that I would lose Heather to this disease, and I would have to raise Lily all alone. These thoughts and the pressures of my caregiver role often made me break down and cry whenever I was alone. However, I made sure that Heather never saw me with these tears. Heather depended on me, and I knew that I had to be strong for her.

There were so many family, friends, and strangers to offer us comforting words and even monetary assistance. We can never fully thank them for their help. If there is one piece of advice that I can offer other cancer caregivers, that advice would be to use any assistance offered to you. When people offer their help to you, it allows you to realize that you are not alone in this situation, and will lift some of the burden off of you.  Don’t be too proud to accept this help.

Caring for someone with cancer is a hard job, and during this time, you will experience a lot of stress. However, unlike other difficulties in life, you cannot simply walk away from this job. You must work hard to not allow these feelings to overtake you, but most importantly, you must make sure to never give up hope.

Heather went through a lot of treatment procedures over the following months including mesothelioma surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.  Thankfully, despite the odds, she was able to beat this disease. It has been seven years, and she remains cancer free to this day.

This ordeal allowed me to realize that time is extremely precious, and as a result, I decided to go back to school as a full-time student and major in Information Technology.  My time as a caregiver gave me the strength and the courage to pursue this dream of mine.

The stress that I experienced with Heather’s diagnosis truly prepared me for college. I graduated with honors, and I was the student graduation speaker. I clearly remember telling the audience that just a few years before, sitting in a doctor’s office and hearing that my wife had cancer, I never imagined my life would turn out the way it did. My wife taught me to never give up hope, and now I hope that by sharing this story with others, we can help inspire them in their own cancer battles today.

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