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Learning to be Thankful After Cancer




Written by Cameron Von St. James

Cameron wrote to me asking if he could post articles on my blog about his family’s story…. Thank you Cameron for sharing.

The holiday season has always been my favorite time of year. It’s the time of year for friends and family to gather and give thanks for life’s blessings. It’s the time of year for continuing or beginning family traditions. With the birth of our daughter in August of 2005, my wife Heather and I began to think about family traditions we wanted our new baby, Lily to experience. Unfortunately, we were forced to put those plans on hold. Three days before Thanksgiving, we were dealt a major blow: Heather was diagnosed with cancer.

Lily hadn’t even been with us for four months and suddenly her mother was in a fight for her life. The doctor told us it was malignant mesothelioma, and while I didn’t know much about that type of cancer at the time, I knew enough to understand that our once bright and exciting future now looked bleak and uncertain. I hoped for the best, but I knew that there was a strong possibility that Lily and I might lose her forever. The realization that we had a real fight on our hands made it very difficult to feel thankful for anything that year.

Despite the terrible news, we did manage to have a Thanksgiving celebration that year. Heather’s parents came into town and made an attempt to help us salvage what would have normally been a joyous day. During their holiday visit, we sat down and had one of the most difficult conversations of my life. While her parents were willing to help with some of our expenses, it became clear to me just how out of control things were getting. We no longer had two incomes, and all of the traveling to Boston for treatments would take a toll on the money that we did have. We discussed which assets we could liquidate to stay afloat over the coming months, and I felt ashamed and embarrassed to be having this conversation with my family.  In that moment, I once again felt that I had nothing to be thankful for that year.Screen Shot 2012-07-26 at 8.01.25 AM

It took years before I was finally able to look back on that day and realize how mistaken I had been to view it that way. While I wallowed in feelings of shame and helplessness, I wasn’t able to see just how blessed we truly were. When we needed support, our loving and generous family answered the call. In a moment’s notice, our family was willing to put all other things aside and stand with us. My pride blinded me from seeing the beauty in something that was so amazing. Fortunately, I am able to see it now.  With the love and support of our friends and family, Heather was able to beat the odds and overcome mesothelioma.

This year, I want to make it a point to give thanks for all that I have. I am thankful for the wonderful friends and family that are in our lives. I am thankful for the seven Christmases I have gotten to spend with Heather and Lily. I look forward to many more Christmases and will continue to be thankful for all that the future holds for my family.