The real cancer support team

I received an e-mail the other day from a gentleman in Boston, as a fan of my blog, he asked if he might write a small article about his experience as caregiver to his wife Heather, who has, I am very pleased to say, come through a real doozy of an ordeal with mesothelioma, but I’ll leave that for him to tell you about. The whole thing got me thinking about what it must be like from the other side of the fence. I think the feeling of helplessness must be overwhelming at first, I feel a little ashamed now that I don’t think I asked Peter how he was coping/feeling/worrying. At the time it was all about me, me, me and how I was going to get through it all. I would invite you to comment on this subject if you wish because I think it is a huge part of the struggle that is cancer. Here is Cameron’s sweet article.


My Experience as a Caregiver-Growth in times of adversity

My wife has often said that she cannot imagine what I experienced when I received the news of her mesothelioma diagnosis.  I only spoke to my wife once about what it was like to be her caregiver during this difficult time.  My hope is to give her more insight with this piece.

Three months before receiving her diagnosis, we celebrated the birth of our first child; our daughter, Lily.  We went from being on a high from becoming parents for the first time to a place of fear and uncertainty with the news of the of mesothelioma diagnosis.  I can remember the day the doctors informed us of her diagnosis.  I remember looking in my wife’s tearing eyes thinking, “How are we ever going to get through this?”

I was really feeling overwhelmed by the whole experience.  I was at the point of breaking down.  It took the doctor asking me questions about future medical choices that brought me back to the moment.  That was the first of what would be many emotionally taxing days we would experience.  I came to the realization that I would  have to help make the most difficult health decisions with my wife.

Immediately after receiving the diagnosis I was feeling rage, fear and anger.  I didn’t know how to control my anger well, and at times, I was at a point where I was communicating with others only using profanity.  Fortunately, I was able to eventually to control my emotions better with time.  I realized that I had to keep my composure in order to really be there for my wife and daughter.  The two needed me.  I had some tough moments at times, but I always tried to remain strong, especially when I was around my wife.  I never wanted my wife to know just how scared I was.  I wanted to be the support she needed and help her keep her spirits up.

After getting the diagnosis, there seemed to be a point where it was nearly impossible to get everything I needed done for our family.  I had to handle all of the travel planning and tend to our child and pets.  At first I was a little overwhelmed by it all but I learned to prioritize and focus on the important tasks.

I learned to accept many offers for assistance from friends and family.  We were thankful for all of the help and support we received.  I am not sure what we would have done without our support system.  There were still times where I felt overwhelmed.

There was a two-month period where my wife Heather says she couldn’t possibly imagine what I went through.  It was after she received her surgery in Boston when Heather had to fly to South Dakota where our daughter was staying with Heather’s parents.  She flew there to finish her recover and prepare for the next stage of mesothelioma treatment, radiation and chemotherapy.  During this time I only saw my wife and child once.

One Friday, I had to drive 11 hours through the night in a snowstorm to see them. I only slept a few hours in the car on the way, waiting patiently for snowplows to come and clear the roads.  When I arrived that Saturday morning, I became exhausted.  I was only able to spend a little time with them Sunday morning before returning to make it in time for work on Monday morning.

While it was hard being away from my wife and daughter for that time, I never really saw this time away as time misspent.  I realize that the decision was a logical one and made sense.  There is no way that I would have been able to take care of my daughter and wife and work full time.  I don’t look back at this time with regret.  I know that these were the sacrifices I had to make.  Her cancer diagnosis forced us to make some of the most difficult decisions, I am glad that we took those chances.

The most important thing I learned during this entire period was how important it is to accept help from others who care about you when offered.  It’s a blessing to be able to make the right hard choices during the most challenging times and maintain self-control in periods of uncertainty. Through all of our struggles, Heather is still here and still healthy over six years later.  I hope that our story can be a source of hope and help to those currently battling cancer.


Well, my nurse Ratched (Julie to her friends) arrives today, for a short stay, so I might ask  her opinion (I know she’ll have one) on the subject also.


2 thoughts on “The real cancer support team

  1. Tina, I think the article written by Cameron giving his perspective as a caregiver to his wife who was diagnosed with mesothelioma was excellent. In a sense cancer is a family affair-all are effected in some way. Is there a support group for families of those diagnosed with cancer – there must be?

  2. Being that Tina, (my Old Bean), implied that I am one who is opinionated and has invited me to comment, I will not let her down! Firstly, my heart obviously goes out to everyone who has experienced the trials of dealing with sickness. I think Tina posed a great question when she asked how the experience is for care-givers and how she is taking time to look at things from the care-givers perspective. Although I have never been a permanent full-time care-giver myself I do have part-time experience. My experience goes beyond my simple role as Nurse Ratchett and helping withTina as my Father battled Parkinsons for 30 years. So – now that we have qualified that I am NOT qualified to give my opinion on 24X7X365 care-giving … I will simply say this … caring for Tina was a painful pleasure. It was entertaining, fun, sad, worrisome, heart-warming, puzzling, aggravating, cheerful, maddening, tiring, and hilarious… all in any given day! Unlike full-time care givers, I was caring for Tina knowing at some point I, uhumm…nurse ratchett, was going to leave and go back to Missouri (did I say Misery?!). I only had to immerse myself for weeks at a time, not months or years. So, my opinion please take with a pinch of salt! I do know with my Mother, our family encouraged her to not lose herself while she took care of Dad … that was an important thing and I do believe a sustainable, happy care-giver will also give care to themselves every day… without feeling guilty! This surely is easier said than done? I don’t know, because I was only a part-time nurse ratchett! I think having emotionally intelligent communication skills help both parties .. (strong self-awareness, ability to read the others emotions, demonstrate empathy, and both-people having a self-depracating sense of humor!) Ok – my opinion is over! HOORAY that I am once again back in WA, with my gallant, shining star of a best friend!


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