Dad and grandfather finds new ways to demonstrate caring

Aaron and his wife and their childrenI’m a father to six children and have worked hard since I was about 13 years old. I really enjoyed working over the years. I worked in the oil fields for three years and went on to do sheet metal work for over 25 years. I would work six to seven days a week and eight to sometimes 16 hour days.

When I got into sheet metal work, I remember there were lots of cuts to your hands. But the job itself was very rewarding – you felt the accomplishment of seeing something you built, something you designed.

I was the provider, dad, husband, and grandfather. I always enjoyed spending my spare time with my family doing various things like camping, helping my kids build things and playing with them. I was always a healthy person and outgoing. I enjoyed my job. I was the type of guy when I would come home from work and saw someone that needed help, I’d stop and help them. I enjoyed all sports such as hockey, baseball, golf, fishing etc. I thought I had a great life and I was happy with what my wife and I had built together.

I owned and ran my company with my wife right beside me, doing ductwork, ventilation and heating systems, and a variety of other handyman projects. I worked crazy hours and it started to take a toll on me. I was getting older and wanted more time at home. I was subcontracting from a company and they came to me and offered me a job as their head guy doing sheet metal. I jumped at it because the benefits would help me and my family.

A few months into my new job, in 2011 we lost our daughter at 21 months of age. This took a huge toll on me. I took a couple months off work. Upon returning to work, after another two or three months I noticed my hands had flaky skin, small cuts and blisters. The more I worked the sorer my hands became, but I threw myself back into my work because I loved what I did, and really needed to get my mind back in the game.

open sores on Aaron's hands

Aaron’s hands were so covered in sores that he could no longer work.

By 2014 my hands were completely covered in open sores. I had blisters, cuts and bleeding from my finger tips to my wrist. It was to a point I was missing two to four days of work a week because I was in so much pain. I went to the doctor who sent me for tests. I was diagnosed with Allergic Contact Dermatitis, a rare disease but not uncommon for a sheet metal worker. But the severity of my case was unusual. Because I had worked with this condition for so long, I am now basically allergic to everything: black rubber, grey rubber which make up about 97 per cent of all rubber and plastics, chrome, chemicals, some foods, and the list goes on.

They started me on light treatments and a pill form of chemotherapy. WCB wanted a biopsy to confirm my diagnosis. When they cut a piece out of my hand, I had a bad reaction and my hand began to swell up. I was allergic to the scalpel, stitches, Bandaid and Polysporin.

This set me back on my recovery by a few months. I fought WCB for over two years and finally they accepted my claim. This put me into bankruptcy and over the course of those two years I had to seek help with mental health. This also brought on Fibromyalgia from stress. The doctor found a new pill called Toctino that has worked to suppress the Allergic Contact Dermatitis. This pill has its drawbacks: no direct sunlight, it makes me sick, and at dusk I have a hard time seeing, but on a positive note it controls the disease so I can still manage to do some things in moderation.

Along this trip I’ve lost who I was. I’m not the provider, dad, grandfather, a person who helps people. I lost my identity. Now I’m a mom and not much of one either. I am home with the kids, which has been a reverse of my former role. I cannot do the things moms do either. Between the two diseases I struggle with day-to-day chores as well. Although my children love having me home, I struggled, thinking I was a burden to my wife and family, and this again took me downhill in my wellbeing and mind set.

It’s been eight years since I’ve become this new person. I am starting to realize the person I once was is gone. So who am I? What can I bring to the table now? It dawned on me that I was always a caring and helpful person. I am still a caring and helpful person. So this is what I’m hanging on to. I want to help people because I care. This is why I feel the need to share my story and hope it will help someone else with their struggles. You need to stay positive. Don’t quit fighting. Take whatever you have left and push forward and push hard! Although a piece or part of you is missing, you still have so much to give back. Find that something and run with it!

Life for me today is so much different than I thought it might be. Each morning when I wake up, I’m immediately in pain – sometimes just my arms or just my legs, and sometimes head to toe. I have to let my pain dictate how much I can do in a day. I’ve discovered four-wheeling and really enjoy that, in moderation when the pain permits.

My wife Tanya has been a rock, and all my family are very understanding. As they’ve gotten older, the kids understand my illnesses
better, and they can just look at me and recognize whether I’m in pain. I couldn’t imagine how I’d cope without my family, and it has been a blessing to have more time with them. I used to work out on the rigs and was gone so much. It’s a great feeling to be able to see my children grow.

I had to learn a lot over the last eight years. I had to learn to love who I became. I had to learn to say no, both to myself and to other people. I still struggle with pain every day and I continue to still have outbreaks, from overdoing things.

Over these years I found Threads of Life. I can’t believe how much they have helped me in such a short time. They helped with my mental state and showed me that I wasn’t alone in this fight. The first time I attended a forum I found myself. From that first day I asked to become a volunteer and be a speaker, although COVID hit before I had a chance to speak and tell my story. I also think I’d like to become a volunteer family guide some day. Just knowing that I could possibly help someone like me get through their hardship or make it easier for them, would be another step forward in my own healing process. As I said before, I was always a caring and helpful person and I took this with me into my new outlook on life.

A huge thank you to the staff, volunteers, support workers and my new family. I say family, not friends, because at Threads of Life we become connected and we respect, care for each other and support each other. That’s family! My journey is not over by a long shot but I know I am not alone because of these amazing people. Stay strong and stay safe.




Aaron Kearley
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