What Cancer Taught Me During the Holidays
by Cameron Von St. James
Making memories, celebrating a great year, spending time with loved ones, and being thankful for new traditions, old traditions, and all the good in life is what makes the holidays such a special time of year for me. The year 2005 was going to be even more special for me, thanks to the fact that my wife and I had our first and only child that summer. In August 2005, we welcomed our daughter Lily into the world, and we couldn’t have been happier to be parents. We were so excited to spend the holidays as a family of three that we spent countless conversations doing nothing but discussing the old holiday traditions we wanted to pass on and the new traditions we wanted to begin now that we were parents.
Three days before Thanksgiving, my world was turned upside down. My wife was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, and in an instant we went from planning for the holidays to fighting a rare and very deadly cancer. I knew that our future was suddenly very uncertain. I was so angry and afraid that I didn’t have time to be thankful. I couldn’t even remember what there was in my life to be thankful for. I was hoping that the best would occur, but I was definitely imagining the worst. I was imagining my life as a single father, without my wife, and my daughter without her mother.
Despite all the sadness of that holiday season, my wife and I celebrated the holidays. We had her parents fly in to visit. We would be leaving for Boston soon after the holidays and we had to do something I was dreading very much. We had to sit down and discuss our finances. Even though Heather and I worked full-time, we didn’t have the ability to stay afloat much longer. The expense of Heather’s cancer, and the fact that we would soon be down to just one income was too much. We sat with my in-laws and discussed everything from our bills to our debts to everything that we could liquidate to stay afloat. My in-laws told us what they could afford to help with and as I sat through this discussion, all I could feel was embarrassment and shame. It would be years before I could look back on that moment and realize how mistaken I was to view it that way.
I didn’t see it at the time, but it was my pride that had me dreading this conversation so much and feeling as if though we had nothing to be thankful for that holiday season. I actually had a lot to be thankful for during that time in my life. My family was willing to put a hold on their own lives, making incredible sacrifices of their own, in order to help us through our tough time. I will forever be grateful for everything they did. This year, the holidays mean more to me than ever. I am thankful for everyone who helped us during this time, and for all the memories I will make with my wife and daughter this year. After intensive mesothelioma surgeries and treatments, my wife beat her cancer, and we’ve been able to celebrate seven Christmases and counting together with Lily. We hope that our story of success against cancer, against overwhelming odds, can be a source of hope and comfort to all those currently fighting cancer this holiday season.
Cameron Von St. James
Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance