I received a request for a guest post from a reader who identifies with some of the writing about cancer. I like to publish anything I can that might help others who find themselves on the cancer bus, whether as a patient or a caregiver, so I accepted his request.
Without further ado, here is what Cameron learned during his role as a caregiver. (His wife’s name being the same as mine is a complete coincidence.)
My wife has often remarked that she can’t imagine what it must have been like for me as her caregiver when she was diagnosed with cancer. I hope that with this story I can give her a better understanding of that, as well as help anyone currently struggling through a difficult fight with cancer.
Heather’s diagnosis came three months after the birth of our only child. Lily was such a joy and we were filled with happiness to have welcomed her into our lives. We had no idea how quickly that joy would be replaced with fear and anger when Heather’s doctor gave us the news – she had mesothelioma. I watched as she cried and began to wonder how we would ever make it through this diagnosis. I was so filled with emotion that I almost broke down. It took the doctor’s many questions about medical decisions to bring me back.
I was so filled with anger after Heather’s diagnosis that I began communicating with profanity to vent my emotions. I knew it needed to stop, but it was so hard to be the rock that Heather needed. Eventually, I was able to control my temper and emotions when it occurred to me how selfish I was being. I began to understand that the last thing in the world my wife needed was to know just how scared I really was. From that moment on, I did my very best to be nothing but a stable source of hope and optimism for my wife. It wasn’t easy, but I did it.
My to-do list was so long every single day, as I inherited a multitude of new responsibilities for which I was completely unprepared. I had to work, make travel arrangements, take care of Heather and Lily, take care of our home, and take care of our pets. I also had to arrange for medical appointments and travel arrangements. I couldn’t do it all, so I learned to prioritize and accept the help that our loved ones offered. I was still overwhelmed, but this made it much easier on me. I will forever be grateful to each and every person who reached out to us with love and support during this difficult time.
The most difficult period for me was being away from Heather and Lily for two months. Following her surgery in Boston, Heather flew to South Dakota to stay with her parents while she recovered. Lily was already with them. I knew I couldn’t work and take care of Lily and Heather at the same time, so I stayed home and she went to recover and prepare for her chemotherapy and radiation with her parents. I don’t regret this decision, because it was the best one for our family, but it was so difficult. I am just so happy that we made it to a point that we had to make that difficult decision.
I saw Heather and Lily only once, for about a day. I drove 11 hours after work on Friday only to make the same drive home on Sunday so that I could go to work Monday morning. It was a lot of travel for only a few precious hours with my family, but it was worth every second.
It wasn’t easy to live like this, but I learned a lot. I learned that it is necessary to accept the help of others in a time of difficulty. Even more importantly, I learned never to regret or second-guess the tough decisions that cancer forced us to make. Rather, we learned to take comfort in the fact that we had the ability to make choices at all, as it gave us some small amount of control over a situation that often felt completely out of our control. It’s been more than six years, and despite the usually troubling prognosis for mesothelioma, Heather is now healthy and cancer free. I can only hope that our story can provide a source of hope and help to those currently struggling through cancer.