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In this guest post, Cameron St. James writes about caring for his wife, Heather, following her diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma, caused by second-hand exposure to asbestos. Until Cameron contacted me, I knew little of the disease other than that it had killed one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Warren Zevon. Cameron St. James is committed to raising awareness of mesothelioma and exposing the dangers of asbestos exposure. An advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, Cameron hopes his family’s story will help provide support for cancer patients and those who care for them. 

Dealing with the diagnosis . . .

Heather has frequently said she cannot fathom what I went through upon hearing of her mesothelioma diagnosis. Only once have I opened up to her about my experiences. Now, I hope to share more with her and anyone else struggling through cancer. Just about three months before the diagnosis, we had welcomed our first and only child, Lily, into the world. The great joy of that time sank quickly into sorrow and fear. When I heard the doctors say “mesothelioma” for the first time, I remember looking into my wife’s crying eyes, wondering how we would ever get through this. My mind racing with a million thoughts, I was unprepared for the doctor’s questions about our future medical choices. Heather and I had to make some tough decisions, and I was emotional and overwhelmed by it. I was so afraid and very angry. There were many days, initially, when I communicated only by using profanity. As time progressed, I became able to better control my emotions. Fear and anger gave way to determination. Facing the very real possibility of raising Lily on my own, I refused to make any compromises with Heather’s treatment.

Accepting help from family and friends: 

As my days  filled with impossibly long to-do lists that included everything from making work and travel arrangements to caring for our daughter and our pets, I learned about the importance of accepting help from others. I had to do everything. I had to learn how to prioritize. I had to ask for and accept offers of help from others. So many wonderful people helped us during this time. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

Setting priorities and being apart . . .

Together, we decided that Heather would fly to Boston to receive radical surgery from esteemed mesothelioma surgeon, David Sugarbaker. Of course, this meant we would be apart.  Following her surgery in Boston, Heather would fly to South Dakota to be with her parents as she recovered from the rest of her mesothelioma treatments. Lily was also staying there. During this time, I saw them only once. On a snowy Friday after work, I drove 11 hours through the night to see them. I slept for a bit in my car in hopes that some of the snow would be plowed when I woke up. Although, I was worn out when I arrived on Saturday, I spent the rest of that day and Sunday with them. Then I drove all the way back to be in time for work on Monday.

It was so hard to be away from my wife and daughter, but I realize that it was the choice that was best for everyone. I couldn’t have taken care of Lily and worked at the same time.

I have no regrets. A cancer diagnosis forces us to make many difficult choices. I take comfort in the fact that we still had the ability to make a choice, that we could still make decisions.

Thriving . . . 

Through all of our struggles, Heather is still here. She is thriving over six years later. Since Heather was diagnosed, I have worked full time, and also completed a Bachelors of Science in Information Technology in 2010. Lily Rose is in 2nd grade. I hope that our story can be a source of hope and help to those currently battling cancer.

Resources . . . 
The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance is dedicated to serving mesothelioma victims and their families with information and resources on mesothelioma. The website is a thorough, comprehensive resource on causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and research. Additionally, the website provides resources for patients and caregivers related to: Asbestos ExposureAsbestos CancerVeterans & Mesothelioma  

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