Helping My Wife in Her Battle With Mesothelioma: the cancer view from the patients side.

It is unusual for the IAC blog to have a post from cancer patients. However, to see the other side of the story, and to verify first hand how much effective a cancer treatment can be and how grateful patients and their families are to the scientific community, can be relevant for motivating young scientists and physicians in their daily struggle to identify pathogenic mechanisms, improve early diagnosis, discover therapeutic targets. The following post has just been received by Mr Cameron Von St. James.

November 21, 2005 will forever stand out in my memory as the day when my life fell apart. My wife, Heather, had been told that she suffered from malignant pleural mesothelioma on that day. It was also when I became her caregiver, which I was definitely not ready for. Just three months prior to this awful occasion, we had rejoiced in the arrival of Lily, our one and only child. We had been so happy at the thought of celebrating the holidays for the first time as a family. Unfortunately, our excitement was erased by the crushing pain and despair of a cancer diagnosis.

Long before my wife and I left the doctor’s office that day, I began to comprehend the full meaning of what it would be to be a caregiver to her. The doctor gave us a little background on this type of cancer and thought that a trip to a specialist would be best. We could stay in our home town and go to a nearby university medical center or visit the regional facility which was highly regarded for cancer treatment, but unfortunately lacked a developed program for mesothelioma. We were also given the option of traveling all the way to Boston to see Dr. David Sugarbaker, one of the country’s leading experts in this particular disease.

I gazed at my wife, expecting her to ask questions, make a comment or at least display some interest in the options we had been presented with. However, she just stared off into space looking like the world was ending right before her eyes, and I suppose that, in a way, it was. Her devastated expression terrified me, and I knew that I needed to step in and help her in any way that I could. I snapped to attention and asked the doctor when we could leave for Boston.

The next two months were sheer pandemonium. There was no more routine. Heather and I had previously worked full-time, but she had to leave her job to fight her illness and I had to work part-time so I could juggle everything going on at home. I had to contend with my work, helping Heather, taking care of Lily and making arrangements for travel and doctor’s appointments. I quickly felt overwhelmed. I constantly struggled with the mounting fear that my wife would die and I’d be homeless and broke with a baby to raise. There were plenty of times when it consumed me and I broke down crying. However, I knew that Heather needed me to be strong, so I never allowed her to see me in these moments of weakness. The last thing she needed was to see my fears.

We were both blessed with so many amazing people in our lives. Everyone wanted to help and gave us everything from words of hope to monetary assistance. We can never thank them properly for all that they did for us. A critical bit of advice I have for others who are enduring this struggle is that you should accept all help that is offered. No matter how large or small it might be, it’s one less thing to complicate your life and it tells you that you aren’t alone in the battle. Your friends and loved ones, and even strangers, will want to help.

There’s no avoiding the fact that caring for someone with cancer is hard. It’s natural to feel overcome by your grief sometimes and it will probably be the hardest time in your life. However, unlike with many other aspects of life, you can’t just turn your back and refuse to deal with it. It’s also important that you don’t let the terror and rage eat you alive. It’s normal, even healthy, to have a bad day here and there, but don’t let it make you become hopeless. Using every available resource can help you keep a hold on your sanity when the going gets tough.

It took years before things became somewhat normal again. Her chances were poor, but after a hard fight, Heather was able to claim victory over her disease. After months of difficult mesothelioma treatment involving extensive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Heather was declared cancer – free. All these years later, she is still happy and healthy. We felt so blessed to have been given all the support and help that we received, and now we wish to help support others in their own fights with cancer by sharing our story of hope and success.

Written by Cameron Von St. James, husband of Mesothelioma Survivor Heather Von St. James.

About Mesothelioma on IAC at

Franco Buonaguro

Dr Buonaguro is the Editor-in-Chief of Infectious Agents and Cancer. He is currently the Director of Molecular Biology and Viral Oncology Unit, in the Department of Experimental Oncology at the Natl Cancer Institute “Fondazione Pascale”, Naples - Italy.

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