Von St. James Family in Portland

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.

First a little history: My wife and I did not rush into starting a family. We spent over five years planning for the event. We had a checklist of things we wanted to get done to be prepared, everything from finances and finishing the nursery, to what time of year would work best to have a baby. We wanted to be as prepared as possible when our baby finally came, an event that I am convinced you never can be fully prepared for. We were as prepared as possible for the birth of our daughter, Lily. What we weren’t prepared for was Heather’s mesothelioma diagnosis a little over three months after the birth of our daughter.

We knew something was wrong after Lily’s birth. Heather has been losing weight and not feeling well. But, as time went on and the doctors ran test after test, it became obvious this wasn’t some common side effect of the pregnancy or the birth of our daughter. It was finally diagnosed as mesothelioma on November 21, a day I will never forget. Heather and I were supposed to be celebrating the holidays with our family and daughter; instead we were getting ready to travel to Boston for treatment with Dr. David Sugarbaker and an uncertain future.

Heather’s family had flown into town to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with us before we headed to Boston. Needless to say it was difficult to celebrate the holidays with the mesothelioma diagnosis hanging over Heather. We had our holiday meal and then after the meal we all sat down to discuss how Heather’s family was going to help us through this difficult time. I had been dreading this for days. For years, this conversation was the single worst moment for me after Heather’s mesothelioma diagnosis.

Von St. James Family

Everything from a detailed review of our finances and assets to childcare for Lily was discussed. I sat there listening to Heather’s family discuss which of our bills and financial obligations they would help with to what assets we had that we could liquidate to help keeps our heads above water. Heather and I were both working before Lily’s birth. But with the mesothelioma diagnosis and traveling to Boston for treatment, the expenses were increasing and our income was dwindling. As I sat there listening, I was overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness and despair.

For five years we had been planning for the birth of our daughter and now everything was beyond my control. I felt ashamed and embarrassed about our lives. I hated to have to open up about our finances to family. It was during this conversation that more than ever I felt like I was a passenger in my life. I had lost all control. I would rather have walked naked through a major shopping mall on Black Friday then be at that table. The feelings were so bad that for years after I would get nauseous just thinking about that day. But why?

Von St. James Family goofing around!

Having had years to think about what is important to me after Heather’s diagnosis, I realize why that day means so much more to me. What I wasn’t seeing while I was sitting at the table being ashamed and feeling overwhelmed was the fact that I was surrounded by family, who on a moments notice dropped everything to be by our side. Family that was willing to help us out in any way the could. While my pride and hubris blinded me to this fact for years, it is something that I can see very clearly now. Since that day, Heather and I have been overwhelmed by all the support we received from family and friends, as well as complete strangers.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. To all the people who have touched our lives and helped us out when we really needed it. And a very special thank you to Heather's family, we will never forget what you have done for us.