In British Columbia, we have a new holiday coming up on February 11th, which is Family Day. Therefore, today I'm happy to feature Cameron Von St. James and his FAMILY as part of my Profiles of Perseverance series. To this family every day is family day, as they know how valuable it is to be together. Cameron initially reached out to me and wanted to share his family's story, which he called "Living with Cancer." After I read it, I had to ask Cameron to also share his pieces of advice about overcoming obstacles. His writing moved me to tears, as many in my life have been affected by this disease. As you will see below, the Von St. James family is beautiful and perseverant. Hearing their story shows how important social support is in overcoming obstacles. Thank you, Cameron, Heather, and Lily, for reminding others what is important in life! Read Cameron’s personal story below. He really does have a way with words!
Living with Cancer
My wife, Heather, and I never imagined we’d go from a life of joy and happiness to a life of confusion and anger in such a short time. We had no idea that a mere three months after the birth of our daughter we would receive devastating news. We had no idea that my wife’s doctor would look at her and tell her she had mesothelioma. I had no idea I’d be looking at the tears running down my wife’s face and wondering how on earth we were supposed to get through this. I remember the anger that I felt. At times, it was so overwhelming that I was reduced to screaming profanities as a method of communication. I knew it was wrong, and I knew I had to get myself together. I had to be my wife’s rock. I had to show her I was strong, and that I was optimistic; the last thing she needed was to know just how scared I really was. I had to be her rock. It was not easy, but it got easier. Our friends and family offered to help us as much as they could. I quickly learned that if I was going to get through the very long to-do list I had every single day, I had to take them up on their offers of help. I am so glad that I did. I was overwhelmed with the doctor’s appointments, travel arrangements, work, taking care of our daughter Lily, and our home. The help our friends and family provided to us was invaluable.
The entire process was the hardest when I was separated from my wife and daughter for two months. Lily went to South Dakota to stay with Heather’s parents while Heather and I were in Boston for her surgery. After the operation, Heather needed time to recover and rest before she began her next round of mesothelioma treatment: radiation and chemotherapy, and I had to work. I knew I couldn’t care for her, Lily, and work at the same time, which is why they went to South Dakota for two months. I saw them only once the weekend I drove 11 hours after work on a Friday and back home on Sunday so that I could be at work Monday morning. It was a long, grueling trip for not a lot of time with them, but it was worth every second. I don’t regret the decision to stay home and work while Heather and Lily were in South Dakota. It was terrible being away from them, but it was necessary. We are so fortunate that we had that decision to make. We are so fortunate that we had Heather’s parents to help us through this difficult time so that I could take care of my family. I learned a lot during Heather’s time with cancer. I learned to prioritize. I learned to be thankful for the ability to make hard decisions, and I learned that you have to say "yes" to others when they offer help. I can only hope that these words give a little insight into what I was feeling at this time in our lives and help at least one family living with cancer.
"Cameron is husband to Heather Von St. James, survivor advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, and father to Lily Rose. He, along with Heather and young Lily, had their worlds turned upside down when Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, just 3-1/2 months after the birth of his only child. When faced with the very real possibility of raising Lily on his own, he fought alongside Heather in her battle with mesothelioma. It was his determination and refusal to compromise on doctors or treatments that led them to Boston for Heather to receive radical surgery from esteemed mesothelioma surgeon, David Sugarbaker. Heather continues to thrive 6 years later.
Throughout the next few years, while being a caregiver to Heather and dad to Lily, Cameron returned to school full-time to finish his degree. He worked full-time, went to school full-time and graduated with high honors at the top of his class in June of 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology. He was soon offered a position at US Bank as Network Analyst and continues to pursue his career. Like Heather, Cameron is passionate about bringing awareness to mesothelioma and the dangers of asbestos exposure. It is his hope that sharing his story will help others battling cancer, and their caregivers, with guidance in their journey."
I wanted to hear more about their story and therefore asked Cameron the “Profiles of Perseverance” interview questions. Check them out below.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? Who did you receive it from?
It was at a benefit for my wife and I in my wife’s hometown of Spearfish, SD. A complete stranger came up to me and introduced himself. Years ago his wife was diagnosed with cancer. He was visiting friends in the area, heard about the benefit, and decided to stop by. The one bit of advice he offered was if anyone offers help, take it. As a caregiver you are often overwhelmed. Accepting help from others, no matter how big or small the help is, is one less thing to worry about, and it reminds you that you are not alone. You have people who you can count on to help.
How important is mentorship in terms of your success?
Mentorship is a valuable asset. It allows the sharing of knowledge and experiences and can be a great help. In my professional life, I have both served as a mentor and a mentee. While I was not presented with the opportunity to have a mentor after my wife’s cancer diagnosis, I did take every opportunity to seek advice and asked questions of many different people to gain from their insight, knowledge, and experiences. I would have loved the opportunity to have a mentor during this tough time. Having a mentor is not necessary for success; however, it helps tremendously. This is why I blog; I’m hoping someone will find my experiences and insight helpful.
What has been the best moment in your life so far?
There are two. The best moment was the birth of my daughter, Lily. And my best accomplishment (so far!) was 2 years after my wife’s diagnosis I went back to school. While working full-time, I went to school full-time and took care of my wife who was still recovering and our now 2 year old daughter. I graduated with high honors, was student graduate speaker, and then landed my dream job in IT.
What tips would you have for living a healthy life?
It’s all about balance and wisdom. You have to be able to balance your life between being a caregiver and still taking the time you need for yourself. Too many caregivers get so caught up caring for someone who has been diagnosed with cancer that they completely neglect themselves. You are not able to give of yourself if there is nothing left to give. Take personal time. And the wisdom comes from knowing there are things you have control over, and then there is everything else. Don’t waste your time or energy on things you have no control over; work on what you can influence.
How do you motivate yourself to persist despite setbacks?
I have finally found where my stubbornness can be an asset. I set a goal and then continue to work to reach the goal. Simply – DON’T GIVE UP! I set a reasonable time frame. Think through the steps necessary to reach the goal and then work to achieve it. I also allow myself to hit obstacles or setbacks. Edison didn’t invent the light bulb on the first try (Technically, Edison did not invent the first electric light bulb, but instead invented the first commercially practical incandescent light. He also tried over 6,000 different materials before he found success!!). Don’t think of them as failures; they are simply solutions that did not work. Try another solution and don’t give up.
What has been your biggest setback? How did you deal with it? What did you learn from it?
My biggest setback was dealing with anger after my wife’s Mesothelioma diagnosis. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by great people and to realize that my anger made my life more difficult. I quickly realized my anger was pushing people who were trying to help away and I was angry over things I had no control over. Once I let this anger go, my stress levels went down and I was able to think more clearly. Anger is just one of many emotions that can overwhelm a caregiver. It’s important to be aware of your feelings and seek help, or advice, from friends if you are having a hard time dealing with stress, anger, denial, depression or any other unusually strong emotion that is hindering your ability to function effectively.
How do you deal with critics?
I am my own biggest critic. I need to be able to look myself in the mirror each day and feel good about what I have accomplished and myself. I also allow myself to be human; to have off days or make mistakes. This is just part of life, part of the learning process. It’s not possible to please all the people, all the time, so just concentrate on the opinions and advice of those who are closest to you and ignore the rest.
How important is social support in overcoming obstacles?
I don’t know how I would have made it without all the great people who were a part of my life during such a hard time. I cannot say “Thank You” enough! These people and all the support and advice they gave made all the difference. I shutter to think of how hard my life would have been without their help.
What advice would you give others about goal setting?
Write them down. Think them through. Think of all the little details or steps that are necessary to reach the goal. Set a time frame...and then never give up. Keep working toward the goal. Allow yourself to fail at times, but never give up! Sounds simple…just keep working toward the goal.
What life lesson have you learned that you would like to pass along to others?
Early in my life I thought it was all about goals: Education, then career. You set goals and then worked towards them. As I have aged, I realize it’s not just about goals, but also about the unexpected. How you deal with life’s unexpected events. How do you deal with events you are not prepared for? It is a wonderful skill to be able to quickly adapt to life’s unexpected events. And to realize there are things that are beyond your control. Knowing this, never forget to live you life to the fullest.
Smile, love, and laugh. Life is an unpredictable ride. Make sure you have lived yours to the fullest and without regret.
Thank you, Cameron, for sharing your story with us and for truly speaking from your heart. Keep writing, inspiring, and empowering others! You have such a beautiful family!
Thank you for reading and your presence at this beach retreat. You Rock! I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comment section below.
See you at the beach!