With Hope the Odds Don’t Matter

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I recently received this email from Cameron who was suddenly thrust into the role of caregiver for his wife, Heather, just after becoming a new father.  Cameron tells his story of compassion and hope, then provides a link to a 3 minute video that further describes their journey.

Dear Karen:

I came across your blog and really identified with a lot of your writing.  My name is Cameron and I was thrown into the role of caregiver when my wife, Heather, was diagnosed with a very rare and deadly cancer called mesothelioma, just three months after the birth of our only child.  We were initially told that she could have less than 15 months to live, but she was able to defy the odds, and eventually beat the cancer.

During her treatment, I had to learn quickly to be an effective caregiver, and there were many times when I became overwhelmed and beaten down by the role, but we managed to fight through it together.  We recently participated in a short video about my wife’s cancer experience, which we hope to use to raise awareness and support for people fighting illness and the

For my wife Heather and me, life completely changed on November 21, 2005. It was on that day that a doctor told us Heather had malignant pleural mesothelioma, a rare and very deadly type of cancer. On that day, I became her caregiver, and I quickly learned that I was not prepared for the job. Only three months earlier, we were celebrating the birth of our first and only child, Lily. We pictured spending the late fall celebrating Thanksgiving and getting ready for our first Christmas as a family of three. Instead, we spent it in doctors’ offices, and our lives quickly became characterized by chaos.

As we sat in the doctor’s office that day, we learned about mesothelioma and were told Heather needed to see a specialist for treatment. The doctor said we could choose between going to a regional hospital that, although excellent, did not have a specific program dedicated to mesothelioma, a local university hospital or to Boston to see Dr. David Sugarbaker, a doctor who specialized in the disease. I waited for Heather to speak up with a question or a preference, but the room remained silent. I looked over at her, and her face was stuck in a look of disbelief and shock. She looked terrified, and I knew she needed help.  I told our doctor that we would go to Boston.

For two months, our daily routines were replaced with utter chaos. I dropped down to working only part-time following my wife’s diagnosis, and she quit working altogether to focus on her health. My life consisted of working, caring for Lily and going to Boston for Heather’s appointments. My to-do list kept growing each day, and I felt totally overwhelmed. My mind filled with anxieties. I worried constantly about Heather dying from cancer, losing all our money on medical bills and ending up caring for Lily alone, broke and homeless. This fear crippled me a few times, and I ended up sobbing uncontrollably on the kitchen floor. Thankfully, the feeling always went away, and I took great care to never show Heather my weakness. I wanted and needed to remain strong for her.

I needed help with so many big and little things, and our family, friends and even strangers offered it. I learned to take all the help I could get, and I will always be thankful to those who lightened our burdens during this difficult time. They reminded me that I was not alone and that they truly cared about Heather and me.

Being a caregiver is the hardest job in the world. The experience is defined by stress, chaos and uncertainty, and it is a true test. If you let them, your emotions can take you hostage, but you always have to hold onto hope. You can have bad days every once in a while, that is only natural given the circumstances, but you always have to have hope in the back of your mind and in your heart. I tapped every resource I could to keep that hope, remain sane and get through the experience.

Over the following months, Heather would undergo intense and difficult treatment for mesothelioma, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. It has now been seven years since we sat in that doctor’s office and got the terrible news of Heather’s diagnosis. Today, I am thrilled and grateful to say she is cancer free, happy and healthy, and an incredible mom to our daughter.

My experience as a caregiver taught me that sometimes, being stubborn is a good thing. The experience also confirmed to me that time is indeed precious. Lily celebrated her second birthday about two years after Heather’s diagnosis, and I went back to school to earn a degree in Information Technology.

Fighting cancer with Heather taught me how to manage my time and cope with stress. As a student, these skills came in handy, and I graduated with high honors. I was invited to speak at commencement, and I spoke about Heather. I talked about the uncertainty that haunted us following her diagnosis, but also the hope that gave us strength. With that hope and belief in myself, I learned that anything is possible.

I was wondering if you would be interested in sharing this video on your blog?  I’d love to share our message of hope with your readers.

Here is the link to Cameron and Heather’s video.

Karen Mulder

Karen Mulder

Karen Mulder is the founder of the Wisdom of the Wounded ministry. She lives in Holland, Michigan with her husband Larry.