Munira Premji

As a cancer patient, I have come to realize the value and necessity of caregivers to provide much-needed support and love.  Cancer is not something that can be faced alone.  Family, friends and the community form an integral part of the support network that makes the process a little easier.  We received a blog from Cameron Von St. James, who has been a caregiver to his wife, Heather.  Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and fatal form of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.  As part of her treatment, Heather had to undergo radical surgery to remove her left lung, the lining around her heart, half of her diaphragm, her sixth rib and a few lymph nodes to be on the safe side.  The good news is that she is a survivor!  Here is Cameron’s story about looking after Heather.

 A Caregiver’s Story

Heather Von St. James with her daughter, Lily.

As an individual who was diagnosed with cancer, my wife often comments how she cannot imagine how difficult it was for me as a primary caregiver. I seldom speak to anyone, even my wife, about the overwhelming, challenging task of being the primary caregiver of an individual with a serious illness, but I hope to share more now with the people who could benefit from my story.

Before my wife was diagnosed with mesothelioma, we received the most precious gift in the world: our daughter, Lily. Going from a time of great joy to a period of uncertainty was a difficult pill to swallow. While I heard the words that the doctors spoke upon my wife’s diagnosis, I simply could not grasp how life changing this condition would be.

Feeling overwhelmed with this information and questioning how we would make it through this, the doctor’s concern about future medical actions and choices soon brought me back to reality. This began the constant decision-making that I would be forced to complete with the help of my life partner.

Directly after the diagnosis, I lost the ability to effectively communicate with others. Resorting to profanity, anger, and rage, I was discouraged with life in general. After a period of time, I was able to better control these emotions, but dealing with my wife’s diagnosis never got any easier.

Putting my own personal feelings aside, I knew that I had to be strong and optimistic for my wife and daughter. My world began to rotate around their happiness, and providing stability for them became my ultimate goal. Of course there were times when I felt as if my whole world was crumbling, but I pushed through these times with the strength and hope that I did my best to portray.

The period of time after the diagnosis was perhaps the most difficult to deal with. Organizing an impossibly long to-do list that included work and travel arrangements, and care for our daughter and pets was my first test. Though it was difficult, I succeeded by prioritizing and taking it one step at a time.

Despite my persistence, one of the best lessons I could have learned throughout this time was to accept help from others. I am so grateful for all the individuals who offered to help our family at this time. Yet, there were still times when I felt completely overwhelmed.

After her surgery, Heather went to stay with her parents and Lily in South Dakota to complete the next step of her mesothelioma treatment: radiation and chemotherapy. I was only able to see my family once during these two months, yet driving endless hours in inclement weather conditions seemed like a minor task compared to the alternative.

Though this period of time was difficult and extremely painful for all of us, I realize that it was the best choice for our family at that time. Heather’s cancer diagnosis ignited strength in us and forced us to make difficult, yet logical decisions in the most stressful times. Accepting help from others was the best choice we could have made.  Through all of our struggles, Heather is still here and still healthy over six years later.  I hope that our story can be a source of hope and help to those currently battling cancer.

To read more about Heather’s story, click here:

To read more blog posts from Cameron, click here:



  • Anonymous , November 8, 2012

    It’s difficult to accept help from others during an illness. From my own personal experience after having a stroke, accepting help from others made me feel like I was never going to get better, that I was doomed. Not realizing, at that time, by accepting the help, it made my recovery quicker.


    • Premji Family , November 11, 2012

      I so totally empathize with what you are saying Caroline. Asking for help is so difficult. And yet I find that people are so willing to help if you take the courage to ask. Munira

  • Dilshad Nathoo , November 7, 2012

    Wow! What a story from the “other side”. Sometimes we don’t realize how cancer hits not only the person who is diagnosed but everyone and especially those closest around them. That is why we always include not only you but your entire family in our prayers because although you are going through the physical and emotional part of this journey, those that love you the most are probably in emotional turmoil seeing someone they love going through such an ordeal. But I know, as most of the people who know you all know, that the Premjis are strong fighters and together you can accomplish even the impossible!!! Ameen!
    And Munira Mukhiani, soon enough you’ll be on that “survivor” list (we’re not ready to cast you off this island anytime soon….ha ha)

    • Premji Family , November 11, 2012

      I so want to be on the survivor list. I am certainly making all the alliances I can to stay on the island! I am so blessed to have the support I do. I know people who have gone through cancer with virtually no support and I don’t know how they do it. But I have also seen how tough the role of the caregiver is, and how they need to take good care of themselves or risk being fatigued. Munira

  • Anonymous , November 7, 2012

    This is a very honest, very moving story. I’m so glad you are finding such wonderful people to help and inspire you, Munira. There is always so much we can learn from others, and you have always been a both a remarkable teacher and student! All my love, your friend, Patti Kurgan.

    • Premji Family , November 11, 2012

      Hi there Patti. It is remarkable how much learniing life provides, isn’t it? Everyday, I meet people in the hospital that I find remarkable and inspiring. And everyday I give thanks to how well I am doing, when I hear other people’s stories. Munira

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