Cells Gone Wild most recent Guest Blogger, Cameron Von St. James, recently contacted me to see if he could write an article about his wife’s diagnosis of malignant pleural mesotheliom, which came during the holiday season 6 years ago. This is what cancer taught him and his family; this is what his story can teach all of us during the holidays.
A time to gather round with my loved ones, celebrate, be thankful, and enjoy friends and family: the holidays were always something I always looked forward to every year. I never looked forward to the holiday as much as I did in 2005, however. My wife and I welcomed our only child that year. In August, Lily was born and we were so excited to be new parents. Heather and I spoke of the holidays often that year, talking about the new traditions we wanted to create with Lily and the old traditions that we wanted to keep for her. It was such an exciting time for us.
In the midst of all our excitement, something came along the stripped all of our happiness away in an instant. Three days before Thanksgiving, Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma. As we learned more about this rare and deadly form of cancer, I began to realize that my family’s once bright and exciting future now looked very uncertain. I was angry and afraid, and while I hoped for the best, all I could picture was the worst. I couldn’t remember why I was looking forward to the holidays or what I had to be thankful for.
We still celebrated the holidays as best we could, though. Heather’s parents flew in to celebrate with us for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Heather and I were preparing to go to Boston after the holidays were over for her treatment, and before that could happen we needed to have a much-dreaded discussion with her parents. We discussed money. Heather and I both had jobs, but the bills were coming in faster than the money and we were struggling a lot. On top of that, we would soon be down to just one income and we knew we would not be able to stay afloat. We had to talk about which of our assets we could liquidate. We had to talk about our bills, our debts, and how much money my in-laws would give us to help pay our bills. It was awful, and I was mortified and embarrassed. It would be years before I could look back on that conversation with anything but shame. However, I now see how mistaken I was to view it that way.
My pride did not allow me to see that I actually had a lot to be thankful for that year. I had a family who wanted to help. The left their home and came to us, offered to help us in any way possible, and was there for us when we needed them most. They were ready and willing to make incredible sacrifices of their own in order to help us through our difficult time. That’s something to be very thankful for. This year, I’m thankful for all those people. I’m also thankful for my wife and my daughter, and I am thankful for the time we have to create more memories and enjoy one another. After intense mesothelioma chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, along with the love and support of our caring friends and family, Heather beat her cancer and we’ve been able to celebrate seven wonderful Christmases with our daughter. We look forward to many more to come, and hope that our story can provide some inspiration and hope to all those currently battling cancer this holiday season.
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.
Through out 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.