Mulcahy, James – Surviving Mesothelioma

Mulcahy, James

Me and Rhio: A short story about illness, hope, and choices

I hadn’t prepared myself for bad news. Sitting in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, I was more concerned with mundane things. The choices at this moment were not terribly serious: should I read a magazine, or should I simply let my mind wander? It occurred to me then that there is always something comforting in coming to see the doctor; I was sitting there enjoying the feeling of people caring for me.

Care was something I needed right now. I had been experiencing strange symptoms. That is why I went to see the doctor initially. Lately, I had been experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath. I tried not to show it, but I was scared.

The nurse called my name. There was nothing novel there. I was about to receive the results of a biopsy. Walking with the nurse into the examining room, all I could think of was what to say when Dr. Andrews asked me his inevitable question: “how has the day been treating you so far?”

Dr. Andrews did indeed ask me the familiar question. Suddenly, there was a subtle shift in his tone. Before I could prepare myself, he delivered the news: I have a disease called mesothelioma. I focused as much as I could on what the doctor was describing. I remembered some disturbing words: cancer and asbestos.

I left the clinic. It was still afternoon, and the sun was still shining. I walked around town for awhile, and wrestled in my mind with the decisions ahead. Finally, I decided to walk to the library and start some reading on the disease. I wasn’t sure if I could get used to that word, mesothelioma. But I knew I didn’t have much of a choice.

The librarian was very helpful. She directed me to the appropriate materials, which I located easily. I found myself a seat at an empty study table. I opened the medical book to “M,” a logical choice, of course. I learned a number of facts. I learned that mesothelioma is a disease where the cells of the mesothelium develop abnormalities, dividing without order or control. Incidentally, I also learned about mesothelium; it’s a membrane covering and protecting most of the body’s internal organs. I also learned that mesothelioma is a relatively rare cancer.

When I learned about a major risk factor for mesothelioma – exposure to asbestos – I instantly remembered a time period many years ago when I worked in an asbestos mill. If only I had taken a different job at that time.

Closing the book and getting ready to leave the library, I decided to go to a computer to do an Internet search on the topic. Here, I learned about a truly amazing person, Rhio O’Connor. Mr. O’Connor was given a year to live after his diagnosis with mesothelioma. I fought back my tears as much as could. I thought to myself, “how am I going to tell my wife I only have a year to live?” All I felt at this point was despair.

However, I found inspiration as I read on about Rhio O’Connor. I smiled when I discovered that Mr. O’Connor had in fact beat the odds. He triumphantly outlived the grim prognosis by over six years. He didn’t give up. He pursued his own path to health. Mr. O’Connor did extensive research, both in the library and speaking with doctors, patients, and researchers. He discovered the various available therapies and their side effects, long and short term.

I was absolutely inspired by Rhio O’Connor’s story. Of course, I knew that my journey may not be exactly the same as Mr. O’Connor’s. But then it occurred to me that even if I only live a year, at least I’ll have tried as much as I could to learn about, and fight, this disease. Still, I was convinced that through sheer effort, I could do as Mr. O’Connor did, and beat my prognosis.

I went back to the study table. I began to make a checklist. I started to brainstorm. “Where on earth do I begin?” I said to myself. One consideration is treatment. I decided then that the first step would be to do specific research on all the treatments available. I would educate myself and speak with my doctor. I would tell my family and ask for their help and support. And I would continuously find the inner strength to live as long, and as well, as I could.

I realized then that the most difficult choice would be the treatment. Perhaps I could do nothing essentially, and allow the disease to take its natural course. Perhaps I could explore the traditional treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy, or even surgery. Or perhaps I could investigate clinical trials. The key was to find a treatment that was realistic and had the least amount of discomfort possible.

I decided against the traditional treatment. Instead, I decided to modify my lifestyle, work with doctors, clinicians, and family to develop a workable treatment plan. I would prepare myself psychologically for the inevitable. I would continuously do research. I would seek out first-hand accounts of dealing with this disease. And perhaps I could find a support group for those battling mesothelioma.

That afternoon trip to the doctor, and subsequent detour the library, was four years ago. I’m still around to tell my story. And I am confident that I made the right choice.

For more information about mesothelioma, visit www.survivingmesothelioma.com

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