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HOPE is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without words

And never stops – at all.

Emily Dickinson


Message of Hope


'Taking Care of a Cancer Patient' by Cameron Von St. James

Back in November of 2005, my wife Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Once she received the diagnosis, I instantly became her caregiver. It was the first time that I ever cared for someone with cancer. I was not prepared for the job ahead. Just three months before my wife received a diagnosis of cancer, we were celebrating the birth of our daughter. We named her Lily and we were so excited to spend the upcoming holidays with her. Unfortunately, things came crashing down on us quickly, and we began a long and difficult battle with cancer.

Starting the job as a caregiver began immediately. After receiving the diagnosis, the doctor began telling us more about mesothelioma and how it develops. He gave us several options for treatment, including a regional hospital or a doctor who specialized in mesothelioma but was located in Boston. We ultimately made the decision that Heather would go to Boston for treatment because Dr. David Sugarbaker was known for his knowledge and experience in dealing with mesothelioma.

The months after the diagnosis were pure pandemonium. The routines we once used to know did not exist anymore. We both used to work fulltime positions at our place of work, but Heather was no longer working and I was working less because of my caregiver duties. I had to work to earn money but also spend time with my wife at her appointments and take care of Lily. Things became quite overwhelming. There were times when I felt helpless and scared that I would become a widower with nothing left. I spent time crying alone on a few occasions. I never wanted my wife to see how I struggled with these fears and thoughts. I wanted to be as strong as possible for her. If I was strong then she would be able to stay strong as well.

We received much assistance from our family and good friends. There were so many people who were willing to help us during such a tough time in our lives. We are forever thankful for the support that we received. I have learned that it is perfectly fine to accept help when it is needed. It also helped me to feel less alone throughout the entire ordeal. Becoming a caregiver was much more difficult than I had originally anticipated. There were many stressful days that Heather and I went through. However, I learned not to give up, even on the worst of days.

It was not for a few years that my life actually began to get back onto a schedule and routine. Heather had to receive her surgery in Boston. She also went through radiation and chemo to completely get rid of the mesothelioma cancer. While the odds were stacked against her, she was able to overcome this terrible disease. Now, over seven years after her diagnosis, she is still cancer free.

During this period in my life, I learned that our time is so valuable. This difficult time gave me the strength to go back to school to study Information Technology. There were so many things that I had to balance as a caregiver. Being able to balance all those things made me realize I could go back to school and achieve my goals. I attended school for Information Technology and even graduated with honors. I spoke to my class at our graduation about how valuable our time is and how I never expected to be there before them all just a few years ago. I told them that within each of us is the strength to accomplish incredible things, if we only just believe in ourselves, never give up hope and always keep fighting for the ones we love.

Cameron Von St. James is the husband of Heather Von St. James, a survivor of malignant pleural mesothelioma. Now, both Heather and Cameron work with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance to advocate for mesothelioma patients and victims. He and Heather live in Roseville, MN, along with their young daughter Lily.


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