Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lessons Learned by an Unwavering Caregiver

A pretty amazing story was sent to me.  And while I understand that this is a PTSD blog and this story centers around cancer, I want you to read it.  Caregiver is a term that many of us have grown used to using and seeing in relation to someone with PTSD, but there are so many others out there who have earned the title of caregiver.  And much of what we do is the same.
Please welcome my guest poster and read this wonderful post about what being a caregiver to his wife, taught this amazing man.
The events on November 21, 2005 changed the lives of my wife, Heather, and I forever. On that day, she was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a form of aggressive cancer. During the course of events on that very same day, I came to realize that I had become a caregiver for a loved one diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. With little experience in caring for others, I felt a strong sense of helplessness. A diagnosis of cancer was the last thing we had expected after celebrating the birth of life a few months earlier with the arrival of our first and only daughter Lily. Although we had looked forward to finally spending a holiday as a family at our Lily’s first Christmas, our plans rapidly changed as we faced one crisis after another.
As our physician described the affects of mesothelioma in his office on that day, it was clear that my role as caregiver had already begun. The doctor had recommended three options for Heather’s treatment that included the local university hospital, a premier regional hospital that did not have a current treatment protocol for mesothelioma, and a physician who specialized in treating this disease in Boston. As always, I looked to my wife for her input on the decision to be made, however; her face remained fixed in a fear and shock that would not permit her to speak. I grabbed her hand in mine and quickly made the decision that Boston was the best option.

The next two months were overwhelming with continuous doctor appointments, trips to Boston and medical procedures. Heather could no longer work her full time job, and I could only work part time because I had to take time to care of her and our baby. The process of paying medical bills, carrying for my family and working when I could arrange care for my baby quickly took a toll on my state of mental health. Although I always expressed a strong resolve for Heather’s recovery, at times I secretly feared that I would lose my precious wife, become bankrupt and be left alone to care for an infant child. Overwhelmed by the prospect of grief and loss, I faced the anxiety, emotional pain and exhaustion in silence.
My wife and I will never forget the compassionate care from friends, family and people we did not even know. Friends and family took the time to help care for Lily, stay with Heather at home while I worked and strangers even offered financial assistance. How can you thank those who help you in such a time of need? The most important lesson to learn about being a caregiver is to know you need help and allow people to assist you. No matter how big or small an offer of help may seem, always accept a helping hand to lessen a list of seemingly endless tasks.  During the worst times, I was so thankful to have someone to talk to, work out my fears and realize that people really do care about me and my family.

For those who provide loving care for their family member struggling with a diagnosis of cancer, it may be the most challenging time of your life. A life-threatening disease produces fear of the loss of a loved one; anxiety about providing enough money and the endless hours of performing tasks that never seem to have an end in sight. During this time, ensure you have someone to talk to about your fears and allow yourself to resolve your hope for the future.

Heather and I were one of the lucky families. After she endured surgery, radiation treatments and chemotherapy, Heather beat mesothelioma and went into remission. In addition, she remains cancer free and healthy to this day, over seven years later. I have learned from our fight with cancer that our time is precious and anything is possible with perseverance and devotion. With my renewed faith in hope and endurance, I returned to school fulltime to pursue a degree in information management.

The challenges of being a caregiver for my wife and daughter had given me the experience to juggle commitments, endure pressure and handle stress. Returning to college two years after her cancer diagnosis was an endeavor that I embraced as fully as caring for my family. I not only graduated with honors but I was chosen to give the graduation speech for my class. The irony of my speech was that I would have never thought that five years ago I would be standing behind the podium with a college degree and a beautiful family. Even our most difficult experiences can strengthen our resolve and restore our dreams. My family taught me the value of commitment, love and determination.
Cameron Von St. James
Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance


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