I recently got a note from a gentleman named Cameron whose wife had contracted another one of the deadly cancers that start with the letter “m”—in this case, mesothelioma. He learned much through his wife’s journey through her illness, and asked if he could share his story here. Here it is (Update: And here’s a link to a video of Heather’s experience. It’s powerful.):
Lessons Learned as I Cared for My Wife
It’s hard to imagine how you will handle a life-changing cancer diagnosis until it affects you directly. My wife and I were proud parents of a baby girl, Lily, who was born three months earlier. That day in November 2005, we faced a fearful reality as my wife’s doctor gave us the news. Mesothelioma left us facing the holidays with a grim realization that Lily’s first Christmas could be Heather’s last.
We had a few choices for treatment locations. A local university hospital was more convenient while an excellent regional hospital lacked a dedicated mesothelioma program. We decided on a Boston mesothelioma specialist, Dr. David Sugarbaker. We knew that we needed the best resources to have the best chances for Heather’s survival.
The diagnosis certainly disrupted our routines. Emotional turmoil made it difficult to operate, but I had to be strong for my wife and my daughter. I only worked part-time during this period in order to be around for Heather, and she couldn’t work at all due to her condition. Our finances were affected severely. I also faced the realization that I could lose her in spite of our efforts. I dreaded the thought of losing my wife and being left to raise Lily alone and broke. While I experienced many tearful moments, I continued to be composed in Heather’s presence. She needed every bit of encouragement that I could provide.
Our family and friends proved invaluable through this time of difficulty. I meet many people who worry about imposing on their loved ones when they walk through similar circumstances, and I encourage them to allow those friends and family members to provide support. Heather’s parents took Lily in and enabled me to accompany my wife to appointments and to be there through her surgery, radiation and chemo. My strongest advice for any caregiver or cancer patient is to accept every offer of help that comes your way. There is no room for pride in a cancer fight, and even the smallest offer of help can be a weight off your shoulders and will remind you that you are not alone.
There’s no doubt that it’s difficult to care for a cancer patient. The stress and uncertainty are heavy, but expressing these emotions can be tough. You can’t just walk away from this situation because your loved one needs you desperately. Don’t give up hope just because you feel helpless. Keep going, making the most of every available resource.
Over the following months, Heather would undergo grueling treatment for mesothelioma under the care of Dr. Sugarbaker and others, and miraculously, she came out the other side free of cancer. It’s been seven years since her devastating diagnosis, and she is still healthy and cancer free to this day.
Our challenges enabled me to face new goals with determination and success. Two years after Heather’s diagnosis, I went back to school. I even had the opportunity to speak at my graduation. I wouldn’t have imagined this opportunity in previous years, but our battle against cancer prepared me for the challenges of school. Belief in yourself and perseverance are both important in making it through any difficult time.