Even without a mesothelioma cancer diagnosis, life can be hectic and stressful at times. Trying to balance family, career, and social obligations can be challenging. Add to that unexpected events like transportation problems or a minor illness and the stress levels can rise. Add a cancer diagnosis and life can be overwhelming! The chaos after the diagnosis is one of the first challenges most caregivers face. You may find yourself not knowing what to do or how to cope with all the choices and challenges confronting you. Here are a few tips to help deal with the chaos and stress of being a new caregiver.
Cameron Von St. James
Husband of Mesothelioma Survivor Heather Von St. James
Becoming a caregiver started the moment my wife was diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer. Like many others, my wife and I were not prepared for the news she had cancer. A little over three months prior to my wife’s cancer diagnosis, we had celebrated the birth of our only child, our daughter Lily. We had assumed we would be settling down to our new lives as parents, not dealing with a cancer diagnosis. The diagnosis shattered our lives.
Originally, I intended to write this post on a different subject. I had finished the article and asked my wife to proofread it. The article was about a trip I took when my wife and daughter were on vacation. I had taken some time to myself to cross an item off my bucket list while they were gone. My wife read the article and then commented she was glad I took the trip. She pointed out that too many caregivers do not take time out for themselves; they get so wrapped up and consumed caring for loved ones diagnosed with cancer that they fail to take care of their own needs. Which got me thinking – what does it mean to be a caregiver?
Previously, I have written about how my wife Heather’s mesothelioma diagnosis has changed my outlook on life, how my values have been altered, and how I now look at life a little differently. This is something I have seen in many people and will be a topic of future blog posts. Today, I want to write about how my thoughts and feelings of past events have changed with time.
A diagnosis of cancer is sure to shatter anyone’s world. My wife, Heather, and I are no different. When Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma in November of 2005, our lives were turned upside down. Many of the changes we experienced could have been expected. Heather’s diagnosis brought chaos and uncertainty. We could plan a week or two in advance at best. Our lives revolved around hospital visits and tests. We became familiar with the inside of several hospitals and medical terminology. I was only working periodically between trips to the hospital and spending time with family. Our daily routine was destroyed.
Ever have one of those days-- a day where it seems everything goes wrong? For me, that happens whenever I fly. It happens so often that I no longer look forward to flying. It wasn’t always this way-- as a kid I loved to fly. I loved flying so much that I learned to fly a small aircraft, hang gliders, and I have even parachuted. However, commercial airline flight is a completely different beast. Commercial flight is something I almost fear. It has become an exercise in stress and anger management. Take my most recent flight as an example--
Actually I’m not mad, but I wanted to talk a little bit about cancer and anger. Anger is listed as the second of the five stages of grief, a hypothesis first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Now I should start by saying I have never read On Death and Dying. Honestly, I haven’t given much thought to these stages. I am familiar enough with the book to know that Kübler-Ross states that these stages are not meant to be complete or chronological. Her hypothesis also holds that not everyone who experiences a life-threatening or life-altering event feels all five of the responses, nor will everyone who does experience them in any particular order. For me, I went straight to anger and stayed there much longer than I would have liked.
Father’s Day -- for many reasons, Father’s Day has always been a bit of an “odd” holiday for me. Firstly, while growing up, Father’s Day was not celebrated with the same enthusiasm as Mother’s Day. This isn’t to say my father was less important than my mother; it’s just that my mother liked to celebrate more than my father. Mother’s Day was a big deal, Father’s Day was just sort of… there. Mother’s Day had flowers, chocolate candies, and fine clothing; we went out to eat. Father’s day had wallets, bad ties and cheap cologne. We ate at home.
My wife has often commented she can't imagine what I went through after her mesothelioma diagnosis. I have only really talked to her once about my experiences as a caregiver and with this I hope to share more.