Thanksgiving is tomorrow. I am driving up the 1, up the California coast toward beloved family, and as we pass blind turns and come out, gasping with joy, into the sweeping views of Big Sur’s cliffs, ocean and sunlight, I think about all the darkness from which we’ve emerged (also blindly and gasping) this year. I think about both the darkness, and the emerging. My neuro-endocrine/carcinoid cancer, under control – -virtually cured. My sister-in-law’s breast cancer — under control, virtually cured. A dear friend’s esophogeal cancer, in remission. My mother’s chronic illness, and her patience and good humor through it.
It’s been quite the year.
We, all of us humans, endure our share of darkness. And we all have potential to emerge into sunlight, cliffs, ocean. Sometimes we emerge unexpectedly, around blind turns. I know this. I give thanks for this.
I also give thanks for a new online friend, Cameron, who shares his very moving story below, about his wife’s battle with mesothelioma. He wrote to me with such honesty and emotion, about making it through and keeping positive with amazing love and courage. This little family goes through all the stages of a difficult battle, and Cameron outlines his own journey through the darkness, as caregiver, with such simple eloquence. I hope you find his story as moving as I did, and I thank him for sharing.
My Family’s Difficult Battle with Cancer
After my wife was diagnosed with mesothelioma, I became her caregiver. Being a caregiver to a cancer patient, especially a spouse, requires a lot of emotional
strength, and every day is a challenge. I want to share my story with others currently in a similar situation, in the hope that they will find strength by reading it.
Our beautiful daughter Lily was born only three months before my wife Heather was diagnosed. We were so happy to welcome our first and only child into the world, and life seemed nearly perfect. That happiness quickly transformed into despair and fear, however, when the doctors diagnosed Heather with malignant pleural mesothelioma.
The moment the doctors said mesothelioma, I began to lose myself. I could feel my body and mind breaking down, and I didn’t know how to stop it. My wife looked at me with her eyes filled with tears, and I could only stare back at her, wondering how we would make it through this. Finally, I was brought back to reality as the doctors began talking about treatment, and I realized that this would be the first of many decisions we would have to make in the coming months about my wife’s health.
At first, I dealt with the news poorly. I was so angry, but I didn’t know how to handle it, so I took it out on others, shouting and cursing. It only made things worse for Heather, and I realized I needed to control my emotions, so I could be strong for her. She needed to be able to rely on me. It wasn’t easy. Each day was a fight and seemed impossible. There were so many things I had to take care of: Heather, Lily, our pets, our house and work. It was impossible, but then I learned to prioritize and how to accept help. The wonderful help we received from others is what kept us going. Over time, I learned to take these tasks on and be the stable source of hope and optimism that my family needed me to be.
One time in particular was difficult for me. Heather needed to have a very invasive and risky surgery in Boston, so we sent Lily to stay with Heather’s parents in South Dakota while we went to Boston for the surgery. After the operation, she followed Lily to South Dakota to recover and prepare for her next phase of mesothelioma treatments, since I would not be able to give her the care she needed while working full time. I was alone for two months and only got to see them once during that whole time. One Friday after work, I drove through a snowstorm to reach them. It took me all night, but I finally got there on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, I had to leave Sunday to be back at work the next morning, so I only got to spend a little bit of time with them, but the few precious hours we had were the best I had in those whole two
I can’t really regret any of the choices we made back then because they had to be made. The experience was terrible, but it helped me to learn to accept help from others and to find happiness and comfort in being able to make choices, even the tough ones. I learned that being a caregiver to a cancer patient is a difficult role, but can also be the most rewarding challenge a person can face.
Today, we’ve won our battle. Heather is healthy and happy, and I hope this story helps others find strength to make it to the end of their war with cancer.
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Happy Thanksgiving, Cameron, Heather and Lily. And happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I wish for you all, joy of a sweeping new vista, coming out of the darkness just around the bend.
UPDATE: I wanted to add two new resources for mesothelioma cancer victims and their families, both sent to me by Susan Vento, whose husband Bruce, a member of the US House of Representatives until 2000, died of mesothelioma. She does good work and if you are interested in her work to highlight asbestos cancer and victims’ rights, please visit: http://cancervictimsrights.org/my-story-opposition-to-the-fact-act-susan-vento/