Learning About Yourself While Caring For Others

There are times in each of our lives where we are forced to face something that we never thought we would be able to get through.

Each of us is tested in some way throughout our lifetime and we must rise to the occasion, regardless of how hard it may be. Otherwise, we will never find out exactly what we are truly capable of doing. 

My test began on November 21, 2005 when my wife Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. The diagnosis took us both by surprise, as we were relatively young and Heather had just given birth to our only child Lily. 

We were anticipating spending our first Christmas together as a family and enjoying the holidays and all the excitement that comes with that time of year. Instead, we found ourselves sitting in a doctor’s office and hearing a diagnosis that was almost too much to bear. 

As the doctor told Heather and I what we were facing, he gave us three options for treatment. We could stay and get treatment at the local hospital or we could go to a regional hospital which had an excellent reputation, but unfortunately did not have a focused program designed for mesothelioma patients. 


Watch Heather’s Story of Survival and Persistence


 

Our choice was to see a specialist named Dr. David Sugarbaker in Boston. I had expected that Heather would make the decision about her treatment, but she was too overwhelmed to say anything. I became her caregiver in that moment as I made the decision for us to travel to Boston in order to get her the best treatment possible. 

I could not even begin to fathom how much our lives were about to change. Nothing was the same.

Heather and I both worked full-time, but after her diagnosis she was unable to work at all and I was reduced to working only part-time so that I could be there for her to help her through her time of need. In addition to caring for her every need I was also called upon to make the financial and travel arrangements for treatment and to care for Lily. 

It was a very difficult time in our lives and I remember feeling overwhelmed so many times. Sometimes the fear would be almost more than I could handle as I would begin to think that I would not only lose Heather, but that Lily and I would be unable to afford to stay in our home and would have no money to live. 

I spent times sitting alone crying, wondering how we would survive the hardships that were imposed upon us by this terrible disease. While I definitely had my weak moments, I can be proud of one thing. I was always strong for Heather and I never let her see me during those moments of weakness. I was always her rock. 

Fortunately, we found out how many friends we really had. It seems that people come from all sorts of places to help when something like this happens. We had friends, family and people that we did not even know that approached us offering help of all kinds. Some people offered to cook a meal while others offered to provide financial assistance that was much needed. 

I quickly found that the only way that we would survive as a family and that I would survive being Heather’s caregiver was to use all resources that were made available to us. I also discovered that it is impossible to be strong at every moment when faced with something such as this. It became apparent early on that if I did not allow myself to be human every once in awhile that the intense emotions would destroy me before long.

Thankfully, Heather survived. It was not easy. She had to go through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation in order to come out ahead of this deadly disease. Today, she has been cancer free for seven years. Heather, Lily and I have the opportunity to live life as a family once again.

I too was changed a great deal by all of this. I realized that it was important for me to go back to school in order to be able to better provide for my family and to avoid feeling those fears once again regarding my ability to cover the financial expenses that we experienced. 

As a result I made the decision to go back to school and get a degree in Information Technology two years after Heather’s diagnosis. I worked hard and graduated with honors. I now know that I am able to provide for my family and spend more time with them. These are two things that are precious and I would not sacrifice time with my family for anything. 

The message that I have to tell everyone is to never give up hope, regardless of how dire the circumstances seem to be at the moment. It is true that there is nothing that cannot be accomplished with determination and hard work. Hope is the key. With it, there is virtually no limit to the things that we can do.

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