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The gift of caring for a loved one with a chronic illness

by Dr. Eno on March 20, 2013

Caregiver Holding Senior's HandAbout a month ago I was contacted by a reader who had recently come across my blog. He wanted me to share his story of hope and the journey of being the caregiver as his wife battled with cancer. I was touched by his message. It is my intention by sharing this with you, that this will give someone out there some hope.

I think it’s important that survivors continue share their story. This way they can inspire others who would otherwise give up hope to press on. But at the sidelines of most survivors are a team of cheerleaders encouraging them to stay the course. And at times those cheerleaders may have to assume the role of caregivers.

Being a caregiver is no easy task. But the human spirit has the undeniable courage to rise to any challenge it is faced with. Such is the story of Cameron Von St James whose wife was diagnosed a little over 7 years ago with mesothelioma – one of the most deadly forms of cancer.

I hope that Cameron’s story inspires you just as it has inspired me to care just a little bit more for our loved ones. So that in times of sickness we embrace this role with grace and integrity.

Life Lessons Through Cancer: What My Family Learned

My wife and I talked once about our experiences during her battle with cancer. She has said that my experience as her caregiver must have been equally challenging as her experience as the patient. I hope with my family’s story that we can shed some light on the experience and what lessons we learned.

Before hearing the diagnosis, Heather and I were the happiest we had ever been. We had just celebrated the birth of daughter Lily, and we were spending lots of time being new doting parents. Three months later, I felt my happiness crushed by the news that my wife had mesothelioma. I remember that day clearly and still feel the emotions that coursed through me when I heard the doctors speak the diagnosis.

I was overwhelmed with fear and anger. I didn’t know what we going to do to get through this, and that’s when the doctors asked us to make medical choices. These were decisions that would affect the future of our family. From that moment on, there were many decisions just like this one where I didn’t know what to say and yet still had to help my wife make a tough call.

After the diagnosis, my emotions were out of control. I went through a period of fear, sadness and anger in particular. I often used profanity when talking to other people, and had angry outbursts. I began to realize that I couldn’t be this way, and understood that the last thing my wife needed was to see how scared I really was. I had to be a rock for Lily and Heather, despite what I was feeling on the inside. It was easier said that done, but I did my best to be optimistic and show strength for my family.

My responsibilities grew exponentially after the diagnosis as well, and they caught me completely unprepared. My days were filled with work, doctor’s appointments, baby care, pet care and dozens of other little things that I didn’t have the energy or experience for. I had to learn to organize my responsibilities, removing those that I couldn’t handle and sacrificing things that were less important. In addition, the help of other people meant a lot, and I had to learn to accept their generous offers. Friends, family and neighbors really came through for our family, and I will forever be grateful to each and every one of them.

There was a time when things were really unbearable for me. Lily’s grandparents in South Dakota had offered to take Lily for a while while my wife went through mesothelioma surgery in Boston. Immediately following the surgery, Heather flew to South Dakota to join her, and to spend the next two months recovering and preparing for further treatment.  I had to remain behind to work and take care of our home, which meant being away from them for two full months.  In this entire span of time, I was able to see them only once.

After work on a Friday, I drove 11 hours to South Dakota. It was in the midst of a snowstorm that left me on the side of the road while plows cleared the way. I made it on Saturday morning, spent the rest of the day with them and part of Sunday, before heading back to work on Monday. While this time apart was easily the worst part for me as a caregiver, I cherish that weekend with my family.

While I learned many lessons about myself and helping my family, I think the best lesson was learning that others truly want to be there for you. Without the help of friends and family, I don’t think that I could have handled everything that we went through. I also learned not to regret the tough decisions that cancer forced us to make.  Instead, we learned to take comfort in the fact that we could still make choices at all. They gave us some small level of control over our situation, which more often than not seemed completely beyond our control. Now more than six years later, my wife is happy and healthy, and we have a beautiful life with our daughter Lily.  We hope that our story can provide a source of hope and comfort to all those currently battling cancer.

Read more about Cameron here.

Dr. Eno

Born in London and raised in Nigeria, Dr. Eno Nsima-Obot is a board certified Internal Medicine Physician, with over 20 years of experience in the health & wellness industry. She graduated from medical school in 1987 with several awards in Obstetrics & Gynecology, Clinical Pharmacology and General Surgery. She is passionate about placing a human touch to healthcare and was the recipient for the quarterly award for compassion when she worked as a primary care physician with a large multi-specialty medical group in Chicago. As a professional life coach, Dr. Eno is committed to helping woman living with chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes achieve optimal health and wellbeing, so that they are able to experience a more wholesome life. She is also an author of a book on diabetes, designed to educate people about diabetes in an easy to understand way. To download a free preview of her book, click here.

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