Tag Archives: life lessons

Being a Caregiver Can Teach You Valuable Life Lessons

Caregiving:  An Act of Love

Caregiving: An Act of Love

Whether we are caring for an aging parent, child or ailing spouse many of the challenges of caregiving are the same.  I would like to share one caregivers story.  Cameron Von St. James was thrust fully into the role of caregiver when shortly after the birth of his first child his wife was diagnosed with cancer.  What he felt and learned during his caregiving experiences are described here in his own words.

By:  Cameron Von St. James

My wife Heather and I welcomed our first and only child, Lily, into the world in August of 2005. It was supposed to be a happy time for us, but just three months later our lives would take a turn for the worse. The holidays were approaching, and we were preparing to celebrate Lily’s first Christmas. Instead, our lives were thrown into chaos when my wife, Heather, was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma cancer. It was also the day I would begin my new role as a caregiver.

Before we left the doctor’s office that day, I was thrust, unprepared, into my new position as a caregiver. The doctor talked about mesothelioma and treatment options. We were told we could either go to the local hospital, a regional hospital that was highly respected but had no mesothelioma program, or to Dr. David Sugarbaker, a doctor in Boston who specializes in this type of cancer. My wife sat in silence and disbelief. I was hoping she would choose an option. “Oh, God, please help me!” was the look of desperation I saw on her face. I knew I had to be strong for her. I made my first decision as a caregiver when I looked at the doctor and said, “Get us to Boston!” I didn’t realize it then, but it was only the first of many decisions I would make after Heather’s diagnosis.

Chaos replaced our normal life. Before her cancer diagnosis, we both worked full time. Now, she wasn’t able to work, and I was working part time and adjusting to being a caregiver. My days were filled with taking Heather to doctor’s appointments, making travel arrangements for the trips to Boston, and taking care of Lily.

I felt overwhelmed by the growing list of things that needed done. Emotionally I was a wreck. I worried about losing my wife. I wondered if we would lose everything fighting the cancer. I feared I would become a homeless widower with a young daughter to care for. Fear consumed me. I would find myself on the kitchen floor bawling in despair. I wanted this to go away. I was thankful these feelings didn’t last long. I had to be strong. I knew I needed to be the one Heather could lean on. I was careful not to let her see me during my times of distress.

Offers of financial assistance and words of comfort were numerous from friends, family, and even strangers. We could never thank all who helped us in our time of need. When people offer assistance, no matter how big or small, take it. You are not alone. Embrace these people into your life. They will help lighten the load.

It isn’t easy being a caregiver. It’s not a job you can walk away from or quit when the going gets rough. It will probably be the toughest challenge you ever have to deal with. It’s normal to feel anger, uncertainty, and stress, but don’t allow your emotions to take you hostage. Give yourself time to grieve during the bad days. Nobody is going to cope well every day under stressful circumstances. Never give up hope. Use your resources to help you keep your sanity and navigate through this difficult journey.

It’s been seven years since Heather’s mesothelioma diagnosis, and she is cancer free today. After going through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, she was able to beat this horrible disease. It has taken years for life to return to a somewhat normal routine again.

I have grown through this ordeal. The cancer helped me see how precious time is. It also taught me that my stubbornness has advantages. Two years after Heather’s diagnosis, I went back to school full time to study Information Technology while working a full time job and caring for Heather and our daughter, who was only two years old at the time.

Fighting cancer with my wife taught me how to balance time commitments and cope with stress. This prepared me for the challenges of going back to school and completing my education. I graduated with high honors and was the speaker at my class graduation. I will never forget the feeling of accomplishment I felt as I stood there.

If someone had asked me on November 21, 2005, where I was going to be in five years, I never in a million years would have expected to be up on that stage giving a speech. The future looked dismal that fateful day. Never giving up hope is what made the difference in my life. I learned through this experience that inside each of us is someone capable of accomplishing more than we can imagine. We simply have to believe in ourselves and never give up.

Click here to view a video of Heather’s Story

On the journey with you,



Lessons We Learn…. About the Journey

I’ve been told that life is about the journey and not the destination.  And I hold to that notion.  If we make it about the journey we live more fully and maybe take notice of opportunities that cross our paths; we live life, instead of letting it happen to us.  I’m not saying don’t plan for the future, but don’t miss out on the now waiting for ‘someday’ to come before you begin to enjoy life.

Ray Charles says, “You should live every day like it is your last because one day you’re going to be right.”  When that day comes, I sure hope to look back on a bucket load of great adventures and accomplishments.

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Great Lessons We Learn…. From Children

I don’t know about you, but with everything that has been going on in this country lately, it seems as though the calm will never return.

We have been dealing with the aftermath of Sandy (with another Nor’easter bearing down on us as I write this post) along with the constant barrage of information, signage, advertising and robo-calls generated by our political campaigns.

There have been sharp words and denigrating comments hurled back and forth from both sides of the race and I saw little evidence of tolerance for those who may have different perspectives.  I guess it makes for ‘good’ TV chatter and headlines but for me it just becomes brain scramble after a while.  I think most people are really just glad when Election Day gets here and we can put an end to that long, drawn-out process that is our election cycle.  And while some are disappointed and others heartened by the outcome of the election, I think that some of the stress of the lead-up lessens now that the votes have been cast and tallied.

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Lessons We Learn…. About Setting an Example

If you are the oldest of several siblings you were probably told more than once to ‘set a good example’ for your brothers and sisters.  And we all know, from experiences in our own lives, that actions speak louder than words.  We’ve heard that you can’t just talk the talk; you also have to be willing to walk the walk.

And we are very quick to rush to some judgment about anyone whose words don’t match up with their actions (at least in our opinions).

People that set good examples for us in life are people who we can look up to and respect.  They may be somebody that we seek to be more like in our own lives; role models that we can learn from and grow.  They are people who earn our commitment to their cause.

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Lessons We Learn…. About Finding Beauty

I just came in from a beautiful fall walk.  The colors on the trees are fabulous just now and with the sunshine and slight breeze, the leaves look like they are dancing on the limbs.  I enjoyed the rustle of the dry leaves as I kicked them along and the crunch of the acorns underfoot; at least the ones that the very busy mob-of-squirrels have not buried in a hole that I feel sure they will never find again.  The air was just ever so slightly brisk and taking deep breaths helped me to have a moment of calm.

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