It was just a few days before Thanksgiving in 2005 when my wife, Heather, was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. For the first time in my life, I would become a caregiver for someone that I loved; someone with cancer. Trepidation set in, and I was nervous about my new role. Not to mention that three months prior to her diagnosis, Heather gave birth to our first and only daughter, Lily. Once a time of great excitement and joy, the holidays came upon us and the reality of the diagnosis sank in. Our lives rapidly fell into disarray.
Heather’s doctor described her illness to us when Heather was first diagnosed with mesothelioma. He explained to us that her treatment options would need to be assessed by a specialist, and that we could either go to the local university hospital, a regional hospital without a mesothelioma program, or to a specialist in Boston. My wife was silent due to the shock, but I knew what we had to do. We had to get to Boston to see the specialist. It would be the first of many tough decisions that I would make as Heather’s husband and caregiver.
The months that ensued were complete madness. Between Heather’s doctor appointments and caring for Lily, I had to drop my employment status to part-time. This put a hardship on my family financially. I often found myself fearing my wife’s death, leaving me a widow with a child and no money or possessions. Even though I wanted to drop to the floor and cry on numerous occasions, I knew that I had to be strong for my family. Our family and friends were a great help, which is something that I am still immensely grateful for to this day. I found solace in their kindness, and began to understand that I was not alone in the fight.
It is not easy to care for someone with cancer. It is hard and stressful, and quite possibly the toughest test that I have ever had to face. Bad days are bound to occur, but it is important to stay strong and use every resource you can muster to stay sane. After intense mesothelioma treatment, Heather has been cancer free for seven years, but it took a long time for our family to adjust and return to our normal routines. I went back to school and recently graduated from an Information Technology program, and we’re doing great. In fact, I spoke about my family’s travails during my graduation speech. Heather and Lily were in the audience to cheer me on. Never give up hope; I didn’t, and I have a great amount to show for it.
Cameron is husband to Heather Von St. James, survivor advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, and father to Lily Rose. He, along with Heather and young Lily, had their world’s turned upside down when Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, just 3 1/2 months after the birth of his only child. When faced with the very real possibility of raising Lily on his own, he fought alongside Heather in her battle with mesothelioma. It was his determination and refusal to compromise on doctors or treatments that led them to Boston to receive radical surgery from esteemed mesothelioma surgeon, David Sugarbaker. Heather continues to thrive 6 years later.
Throughout the next few years, while being a caregiver to Heather and dad to Lily, Cameron returned to school full time to finish his degree. He worked full time, went to school full time and graduated with high honors at the top of his class in June of 2010 with a Bachelors of Science in Information Technology. He was soon offered a position at US Bank as Network Analyst and continues to pursue his career.
Like Heather, Cameron is passionate about bringing awareness to mesothelioma and the dangers of asbestos exposure. It is his hope that sharing his story will help others those battling cancer and their caregivers who provide them care and guidance in their journey.