Billups, Felicia – Surviving Mesothelioma

Billups, Felicia

James “Rhio” O’ Connor had Pleural Mesothelioma which affects the pleura which is the lining of the lung (Early, 2010).  Some of the symptoms of Mesothelioma include shortness of breath and pain in the chest (Meso, 2002).  Mesothelium is a membrane that covers and protects the internal organs of the body (Meso, 2002).  Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos and sometimes the symptoms of mesothelioma don’t appear for 30-50 years after exposure to asbestos. Rhio was diagnosed when he was 61 years old.  He was given a prognosis of less than 1 year to live. He managed to beat the odds and he lived 8 more years. He lived this long even though he was not able to take standard treatments of chemotherapy.  While working with skilled clinicians, Rhio researched and developed his own treatment plan which included using supplements, vitamins, practicing being positive, and following a healthy diet (Early, 2010).  Rhio took over 100 supplements a day, changed his diet and used his mind to battle this cancer (James, 2009).  Rhio was a very inspiring man and his story has touched me.

As a Hospice Social Worker, reading this story about Rhio O’Connor was fascinating.  Because of my experience with Hospice, I have a completely different viewpoint then many people and definitely think outside of the box.  I am a strong believer that our minds are extremely powerful and we can sometimes will ourselves to go in certain directions.  I have seen patients like Rhio O’Connor who also had strong determination and who seemed to make themselves get better.  These same patients were some of the patients who when initially admitted to Hospice were told they had a terminal illness and that they had 6 months or less to live.  Some of these patients were bedridden when they came to Hospice. I can remember one patient in particular, a man who was 47 years old.  This particular man had a diagnosis of colon cancer.  When he was admitted to the Hospice program, he was unable to get out of bed, and he was very weak.  He appeared to be days from death.  He was unable to sit up and was not able to get out of bed.  He was sleeping most of the time and had poor coloring.  

A few days after this patient was admitted to Hospice, the Hospice nurse started seeing some subtle positive changes.  This patient was soon able to sit up, started eating again, started gaining strength in his hands, and started staying awake more.  Miraculously, he started walking again which he had not done in months.  He appeared to be getting better before everybody’s eyes.  Eventually, he no longer met the Hospice Criteria of having a terminal illness of less than 6 months to live.  He was discharged from the Hospice program.  Although he was no longer a patient in the program, his family kept in touch with Hospice to give Hospice updates as to how this gentleman was doing.  He was back to normal, going fishing, camping, hunting, playing with his grandkids, going out to eat and doing all the normal activities he had done before his terminal illness caused so many problems for him.  He had 5 good years in which he thrived and lived the life that he wanted.  After 5 years, he did start getting sick again and ended up back on Hospice care.  Several months later he passed on.  He was 52 years old, but he was very appreciative for the 5 very good years he had after appearing to be so close to death.  

Besides this gentleman, there have been similar stories at Hospice where people seemed to miraculously beat the odds while other people have not been so fortunate. 

In mentioning Hospice, I will also add that just because a person comes onto Hospice care does not mean they should give up or lose hope.  Sometimes just being on Hospice can give patients such a great quality of life that some of the patients really do get better and then have to be discharged because they are fortunate that they no longer meet the criteria of having 6 months or less to live.  

In studying this through the eyes of a Hospice Social Worker, I have seen similarities in patients who seem to beat the odds.  Each patient I have personally known has had an upbeat, positive and optimistic attitude.  They have also had very strong wills and were very determined.  All of these patients that I know had voiced that they were not ready to die and that they were not going to give up.  

If I was faced with the same challenge of Rhio and given a dire cancer prognosis, I hope that I also could maintain a positive and upbeat attitude.  I would try to find all resources available before saying there is no more hope.  I would also do what Rhio did in researching the internet, reading as many materials as I could on cancer and specifically on mesothelioma.  My personal steps would include going for second and third opinions with physicians on the diagnosis and prognosis.  I would then get on the internet and find as much as I could about mesothelioma and would find as many survivors of mesothelioma as I could.  I would then try to find each of the survivor’s stories and see what they may have done differently than the persons who have not survived this cancer.  After this step, I would talk to as many medical personnel as possible.  Because I work in the medical field, I am surrounded by physicians, nurses and many other medical personnel.  I would talk to everybody I know to get information from them.  I would also present the research I found from the internet and share that with these medical personnel to ask for their opinions.      

My research would be conducted using various internet sources, utilizing the public libraries, college libraries, conducting personal interviews with Hospice medical staff, personal interviews with other medical people and talking to my family and friends.  I would make an informed decision in choosing treatment after presenting the research to at least 3 physicians that I know and to ask them if they felt this particular treatment was the right path and to ask them what the pros and cons for the treatment were.  

I would definitely look beyond chemotherapy, radiation and other traditional treatments if I found they were not working.  I would check out holistic medicine as I have worked with patients who have used that route before and achieved success with it.  Holistic medicine looks at the whole person including physical, emotional, spiritual and other aspects of that person and incorporates the best treatment plan for that individual.  

The resources I would use to help me to make an informed decision would include my colleagues at Hospice, and other medical personnel.  In conclusion, I have seen people who willed themselves to live and people who willed themselves to die.  I am a strong believer that our minds are very powerful and can control our body at times.  I wish that more people could see the types of miracles I have seen.  It would make people realize how powerful the mind really is and I thank people like Rhio O’Connor for his determination and for his strength.

References:

Early, J. F. LLC (2010).  Mesothelioma.  Mesothelioma.com.  Retrieved on February 24, 2010.

Gold, M. (2009). What is Holistic medicine?  Holistic Healing Web Page.  Retrieved on February 24, 2010.

James Rhio Connor. (2009).  Surviving Mesothelioma:  A survivors guide. Retrieved on February 24, 2010 from https://survivingmesothelioma.com/rhiooconnor.cfm

Mesothelioma: Questions and Answers.  (2002). National Cancer Institute.  Retrieved on February 24, 2010

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