Guest Post: “A Real Cancer Story: Our Survival”

March 5th, 2013

Dear Readers,

I was honored to be contacted by Cameron whose wife Heather was able to beat a highly aggressive, usually fatal cancer called malignant pleural mesothelioma. He responded to a post I had written earlier that dealt with my personal health fears and taking care of my own health.

Often as physicians, we spend so much effort focusing on patients that we forget a critical component: caring for their caregivers.

Here is Cameron’s story about his experience. Since the position of caregiver is a role most of us will play at some time in our lives, I hope it serves as inspiration for you as it did for me.



A Real Cancer Story: Our Survival

I often think about the moment in my life when I changed completely. It was in November of 2005 as I sat with my wife in the doctor’s office that I knew everything was going to be different. That was the day that she was diagnosed with cancer, malignant pleural mesothelioma. It was terrifying, and it came out of nowhere. Only three months before we had been celebrating the birth of our daughter Lily, our only child. Our excitement about the future of our new little family was ripped away from us the instant we received the diagnosis.

I became a caregiver as soon as the diagnosis was delivered. There wasn’t any time to waste. The doctor made sure to tell us about treatment options, and laid out several different locations where we could seek treatment. He mentioned a specialist in Boston named Dr. David Sugarbaker who had an excellent recovery rate for mesothelioma. For my wife, I wasn’t going to let anything stop her from receiving the best treatment, and therefore we made the decision to travel to Boston. It was the first decision of many that I had to help make in the midst of doubts and fear after her diagnosis.

Everything is almost a blur after that. Months went by in chaos. Our lives had been turned upside down. I was still working as many hours as I could while I took care of Lily and Heather, and sometimes, I couldn’t help but let my fears get the best of me. I dreaded the thought of being widowed and alone with my daughter Lily. It was something that kept me up until the early hours of the morning, and more than once caused me to break down in tears under the pressure and fear. However, I never allowed Heather to see me in these weak moments, as I knew she needed me to be a rock for her through this difficult time.
Heather’s family was the first to reach out. They knew that we were going through rough times and came through for us in many ways. They provided help for treatment and other financial assistance that we desperately needed. They also helped with Lily’s care during our trips away from home for treatment. Friends were also there for us, offering support in any way that they could. It was the most amazing gift to receive after all of the heartache, and I can’t help but think of what would have happened if I didn’t have these people in my life. My strongest advice for anyone going through a similar situation is to always accept help whenever it is offered. There is no room for pride when a loved one’s life is on the line. Even the smallest bit of help can be a huge weight off your shoulders, and will remind you that you’re not alone in this fight.

After undergoing intense mesothelioma treatment, which included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Heather achieved the improbable and beat mesothelioma, a feat accomplished by far too few people. I learned to never give up hope through this whole ordeal. There were many times when I let fear get the best of me, but I always held on to hope and never gave in to despair. Now, seven years later, Heather is healthy and cancer free. We hope that our story of success over cancer can be a source of hope and inspiration to all those currently battling cancer today.

Cameron Von St. James

Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance


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    About Me

    Professional Gastroenterology Fellow

    Amateur Martha Stewart/Bob Villa/Julia Child/Collette Peters