Education Empowers People

Rhio O’Connor was diagnosed with Mesothelioma in 2001 as a result of Asbestos exposure as a child. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that develops from the Mesothelium, a membrane that forms the lining of many organs including the heart sac, abdominal cavity and chest cavity. Despite receiving a prognosis of less than a year to live, Rhio O’Connor decided to take charge of his illness. After extensive research and consultations with specialists, Rhio developed a treatment protocol that included supplements, healthy diet, and mental wellness that allowed him to live 7 ½ years longer than anticipated.

Learning about Rhio O’Connor’s battle with Mesothelioma reminds me of the importance of patients becoming proactive about their health. Cancer is a disease that does not discriminate therefore it is essential that people become aware of the risks factors associated with different cancers and what options are available for prevention, early detection, and treatment. I have had many experiences with cancer. I lost my Godfather 5 years ago to Malignant Melanoma, although he received aggressive treatment and therefore lived several years longer than expected, he ultimately succumbed to the disease. Watching him suffer through pain, particularly in the last several months of his life, inspired me to pursue a career in cancer research. For the past two years I have been an undergraduate researcher at a tumor immunology research lab at the UC Davis School of Medicine. The lab is developing cancer vaccines; one of the vaccines is showing great promise. Currently I am working as a program coordinator for an outreach program through the UC Davis School of Medicine. The program was created to address cancer disparities in minority groups; we provide breast health information to African American women and encourage them to get annual mammograms. All of these experiences have contributed to my growing knowledge of cancer.

If I were diagnosed with cancer, the first step that I would take would be to consult with several specialists to determine the best standard treatment of care. I would also conduct some research on the type of cancer I had. I would read articles on the most effective treatment options (chemotherapy, radiation, surgery) for my cancer based on the stage of the tumor, my age, my current health, my race and gender.  It would be very important to prepare myself for side effects of potential therapies like chemotherapy and radiation, therefore I would interact with patients who were in the process of treatment; I would couple this with speaking with my family in order to determine the best atmosphere to increase the likelihood of recovery (i.e. determining who would take me to treatments, take care of me at home, etc). During the treatment process I would try to stay as healthy as positive. This would include a healthy diet and exercise program (as approved by my physician). Diet and exercise have been shown to significantly boost the immune system. I would also partake in Yoga, meditation, and prayer. All of which have been shown to decrease stress, increase mental health, and ultimately would also aid in boosting my immune system. If my cancer did not respond to these treatments I would research other options. There are many immunotherapies such as monoclonal antibodies that are currently being used to treat various cancers and there are many clinical trials currently taking place to develop vaccines and other monoclonal antibodies. I would learn about the current research programs out there and consult with specialists to determine if I qualified for the study. I would use this as a last resort. If ultimately all of the previous options failed, I would focus on the quality of the rest of my life.

Death is something that is unavoidable in many instances, and if that were a strong probability with my illness, then I would want to spend the remainder of my time on earth doing things that I enjoyed. I would have to come to terms with my prognosis, part of that would require me to tie any financial and emotional loose ends. I would then spend time with my family and friends; I would travel, and do all of the things that I put off because I thought I had more time. I would also continue to eat healthy, exercise, pray, and participate in activities such as yoga and meditation. All of these things would significantly improve my physical, mental and emotional health, and ultimately my quality of life. Although I would come to terms with my illness I would also maintain a positive attitude that there would be a small, even if minute, chance that I would survive.  There have been many medical miracles that science can’t explain. My Godfather is an example of that. Although he didn’t survive he did live longer than expected; he did this by committing to treatments and staying positive.

Finally, whether I survived or succumbed to my illness, I would want to leave a legacy. I would try to set up a foundation in order to raise money for research and education. Research funding was, and continues to be critical for the development of many of the treatments that are currently available to patients. Along with research, there has to be an emphasis placed on education. Education empowers people to seek help. I would want the population to learn about their risk factors for developing cancer and what options are available for early detection. Early detection can’t be overemphasized. It has been shown repeatedly that early detection allows for a greater chance of survival. Like Rhio O’Connor I would not want my death to be in vain. I would want to leave this earth knowing that I did something to make it a little bit better.

By: Abdiwahab, Ekland

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