Giving Thanks After Cancer this Holiday Season–By Cameron Von St. James
Posted Dec 21 2012 10:15am
Welcome to the first ever guest writer at Chronic Town. I’ve been wanting to open up this blog to new voices and new perspectives for a while. Fortunately, Cameron Von St. James got in touch with me and sent this moving piece about gratitude and learning to accept help after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. It’s the first time we’ve ever had the perspective of a care-giver here in Chronic Town. So, please, give Cameron and big welcome.
As the holiday season began this year, it was a moment of reflection for my family. I go back to that time seven years ago in August 2005 when we celebrated the birth of our one and only child, Lily. She was a beautiful baby who gave us so much happiness and hope for the future, particularly for the holidays. As we moved on to planning family dinners and presents, we were suddenly crushed when my wife was diagnosed with cancer.
Lily was just three months old when Heather was diagnosed with pleural malignant mesothelioma . The words are enough to make your head spin, and believe me, my head spun in so many directions when I first realized what this meant for my family. Suddenly all the hope in the world turned to doubt, anger, and fear. Why was this happening to my family? I did my best to stay positive, but all I could picture was the worst-case scenario – me a widower, and Lily growing up without ever knowing her mother. I felt that I had nothing to be thankful for that year.
We did continue to celebrate the holidays as much as we could. We had a Thanksgiving dinner together. Heather’s family flew in to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas that year before Heather would go for treatment in Boston. It was difficult to explain everything to them, and this was a conversation that I had been dreading as well. While explaining mesothelioma was hard enough, we had financial burdens looming over our heads at a time when medical expenses only seemed to be growing more out of control. The medical bills were piling up, and while we were both working full time, we knew that Heather would not be able to work after starting treatment, which would really put us behind. It was one of the worst moments of my life, but after Thanksgiving dinner, we sat down with Heather’s parents and discussed everything, from financial assets that we could liquidate to what Heather’s parents could help us pay for. I was mortified and embarrassed, and it would be years before I could look back on that day with anything but shame.
Now, however, I can see how mistaken I was to view it that way. I realize now how blessed we were in that time. We had a family who dropped everything they had going in an instant to be by our sides, who were willing to make huge sacrifices for us during our time of need. Thanks in large part to their help, we were able to make it through. Heather was able to beat mesothelioma , despite the odds, and we’ve enjoyed seven wonderful Christmases together with Lily, and look forward to many more to come. So this Christmas, we want to give thanks to those who helped us and also provide hope for those who are going through similar experiences. May you experience the same joy that we have together seven years later.
Cameron Von St. James is the husband of mesothelioma survivor advocate Heather Von St. James, who was diagnosed in 2005 at the age of 36. A seven year survivor of this rare cancer, Heather and Cameron now work with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance to bring awareness to this often neglected disease. They hope that by sharing their story, they can bring hope and inspiration to people with all forms of cancer.