Riding the Race to the Finish
This year has been a year of change for me. For the past few years I have wanted to return to school so that I can fulfill some of my goals and my deep desires to dedicate my time to individuals with cancer. I am a mother to two young children, Tristan is three and Kadin is two. I am also an office manager for a family owned business. My desire to dedicate my time and talent to individuals with cancer came when my sister-in-law’s father Phil Alviso was diagnosed with sarcoma cancer. Phil was as close to me as my own father.
When I read the story of James “Rhio” O’Conner it brought back the memories of countless hours that I spent with my sister-in-law researching her father’s diagnosis of sarcoma and trying to find some hope somewhere within the facts of his poor prognosis.
I watched as my sister-in-laws life changed from a happy vibrant only child about to give birth to her parents first grandchild to the title of “the woman who lost her dad to cancer.” The reality that she would live with this title for the rest of her life saddened me. Not only did cancer take her father’s life and change her life forever but it also affected her unborn son. He was deprived of the opportunity of knowing a grandfather who fought cancer and lived three years after he was told he had six months to live. Just as Rhio beat the odds so did my sister-in-laws father. He lost his fight against cancer two months before his grandsons’ birth. Cancer had taken another life, stole a father from a daughter, a husband from a wife and a grandfather from a grandson.
Rhio was told that he had a deadly cancer called Meothelioma. When I read about mesothelioma on the National Cancer Institute’s website it was described as “a rare form of cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the body’s internal organs.” I could only imagine what must have been going on in Rhio’s head. To learn more about this deadly form of cancer please visit www.survivingmesothelioma.com.
I began to relive the day when Phil was diagnosed with an incurable cancer and how just the word cancer made me feel helpless and how I felt fear fill me from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. I had a choice just as Rhio had a choice. I as well as Rhio could choose to allow to fear take over and become a bystander and submit to the cancer or take a hold of the reins of fear as a jockey would a horse and channel all this energy to the finish line.
Educating ourselves is the first leg of the race. Knowing the exact type of cancer and stage helps us to know exactly what were are up against. My sister-in-law and I spent countless hours just as Rhio researching and trying to understand the disease. We also joined a support group and contacted other patients with the same cancer to seek answers and advice. Joining a local cancer support group was critical for the family. It provided a setting in which we were able to share common experiences and concerns. The support group especially helped the family with emotional and moral support. This support group became our surrogate family. We exchanged the types of critical treatment options offered to others facing the same challenge. We learned all we could about the disease. Doing this empowered us as a family and gave us the ability to compete and challenged us to question and have hope.
The second leg of this race was to maintain a daily journal of all health concerns. By doing this it helped the family stay focused and keep track of any progress. It also helped us maintain our focus on the finish line. By being able to focus and put things into perspective it allowed us to become a part of our physicians’ team. We were able to provide each doctor with detailed health information, and day-to-day victories and concerns.
According to the Lance Armstrong Foundation (2004-2005) “The most common treatments today for treating cancer are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. These treatments may be given as stand- alone treatments or, more commonly, in some combination with one another. These anticancer therapies may result in a cure, remission, disease control without remission or symptom management, depending on the particular type of cancer, the stage of disease at the time of diagnosis and other factors.”
Our family and Rhio experienced firsthand these treatments. This is part of the third leg of the race. We had to be willing to stay in the race even if it meant going through some difficult days. We came together as a family and we stood on the side lines cheering on my sister-in-laws father Phil.
Rhio chose to educate himself about his disease and when doing so he empowered himself. He became a partner along with his physician in the fight. He chose not to be a bystander but an active participant. I also chose along with my sister -in-law and her family to take the reins of our fears and replace the fear with knowledge to guide us to finish line.
Although to some, it may seem that we did not win the race. Phil and Rhio didn’t give up. They refused to just passively watch the cancer take control of their lives. They fought to stay in the race. Their tenacity has inspired me to continue to educate myself about cancer. It has touched a daughter, a wife, a grandson. Just as Rhio’s story has inspired and reinforced my commitment and my volunteerism. Rhio had no choice he had to run the race and so did Phil. I choose to join the race and as a family these kinds of stories have prepared us for any race that life may bring and no matter what the outcome whether we win, place, or show we will always finish.
National Cancer Institute. (2002). National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet.
Lance Armstrong Foundation, (2004-2005). LiveStrong Resource for Cancer Survivors Lance Armstrong Foundation.