Why I Wear A Skull Ring: Remembering What’s Important

Mesothelioma caregiver Cameron Von St. James' skull ring

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.

After a while, the chaos started to subside– Heather’s surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation were an outstanding success. My fears about Heather’s health had diminished. Trips to the hospital became less frequent and Heather was getting stronger every day. As the chaos cleared, it became apparent I was no longer the same person I was pre-cancer diagnosis. My values had changed.

LungLeavin Day

I no longer place an emphasis on items that can be replaced. If something can be bought or built, it can be replaced. It‘s the things I can’t replace that I value. Friendship, love, and family just to name a few. One of the results of my new values is a greater emphasis on holidays and tradition. Heather and I have even started our own family tradition called Lungleavin’ Day. It is a celebration of life every February 2nd, the day Heather had her extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery. We surround ourselves with friends and family, write our fears on plates and smash them in a bonfire.

Another one of the changes are rings. I have started to wear rings. I currently wear four rings and yes, one is a skull ring. Each ring serves as a reminder of something that is important to me. I love the fact that throughout the day, every time I look at my hands and see my rings, they remind me of things I find important and value.

One is an anniversary gift Heather got for me that reminds me of her love and our time together. I have one that is a motorcycle tire – for my love of riding motorcycles, a passion that borders on an obsession at times. Of course, I wear my wedding ring. Not only does this ring remind me of Heather, but I also think about our daughter Lily whenever I look at it. It reminds me of family and commitment. And right next to my wedding band is a skull ring.

Von St. James family

I’ve wanted a skull ring for some time now. Heather found this one for me when she was visiting her family in South Dakota. Yes, it came from Sturgis. I don’t wear a skull ring because of its macabre nature or because I am a leather-clad biker. I wear a skull ring as a reminder that life is short and every moment needs to be lived to the fullest. I wear it as a reminder to treat each day as a gift and to take nothing for granted. I find it comforting whenever I reach for a glass of water, or pick up a pen, or type on the keyboard, whenever I look at my hands, there are my rings. Reminding me of what I value and to live each and every day to the fullest.