Anderson, Jenna – Surviving Mesothelioma

Anderson, Jenna

Everyday, I wake up and prepare for the day understanding two concepts. My first thought is that everything happens for a reason and the second is the saying, “God never said life would be easy, he just promised it would be worth it.” Throughout my life, I have been faced with hardships but my inner strength and hope has prevailed and allowed me to become the person that I am today. Like James “Rhio” O’ Connor, I have demonstrated an optimistic attitude and a strong sense of determination whenever an obstacle has presented itself. Numerous members of my family, including my mother, have been diagnosed with the monstrous disease that makes us all cringe, cancer. However, instead of becoming the victim and letting this disease take over their life, each and every one of my family members has chosen to fight and conquer this battle. Cancer may be deadly, but it cannot destroy the spirit within us, nor can it take away our hope. James “Rhio” O’ Connor was diagnosed with a very rare type of carcinoma known as pleural mesothelioma and was told he had less than one year to live. Determined to beat the odds, Rhio courageously surpassed that death sentence and lived for over an additional six years.

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that occurs in the layer of cells that line the body’s internal organs, the mesothelium, and usually it is a result of exposure to asbestos. Each year in the United States, approximately 2,000 to 3,000 individuals are diagnosed with carcinoma of the mesothelium, so this type of cancer is fairly rare yet very serious because the average life span after being diagnosed is nearly one year. Doctors often suggest surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation for treatment, but Rhio did not feel that those methods were the right options for him. Alternatively, Rhio, alongside other professional clinicians, decided to create a personalized protocol by intensively researching his disease and finding a regimen that would ultimately boost his immune system and overall health. His course of therapy consisted of taking nearly 100 daily supplements, modifying his diet, practicing mind-body medicine and alternate individual practices such as self-discipline that helped guide him when the path got rough.

James “Rhio” O’ Connor never gave up hope or let the cancer take control of his life. In my point of view, his battle of cancer is not only inspirational because it exemplifies that overcoming the impossible is certainly possible, it is undoubtedly motivating. It is so easy to be faced with a challenge and turn your cheek, but this approach never crossed Rhio’s mind. When Rhio was told he had less than one year to live, he felt in his heart that his time here on Earth was not finished. He had a supportive group of loving family and friends behind him, so he certainly was not going to take a knee and let this disease kill him without putting up a fight. Rhio success of outliving his prognosis by over six years was a result of his never-ending effort and determination, his willingness to persevere, and his inner strength accompanied by the unquestionable belief in something greater than himself. The knowledge Rhio obtained from his countless days of research allowed him to create an unconventional method of treatment for himself that was put into action with confidence. Ultimately, Rhio’s story is one of multiple admirable qualities such as determination, perseverance, strength, courage, hope and faith.

There are simply no words to describe the feelings I had in eighth grade when I was informed that my mom was given a cancer diagnosis. Instant fear seeped into my thoughts, and I felt completely shocked and overwhelmed with multiple emotions. Absolutely nothing could have prepared me for that moment, but over the next few weeks I started to accept that my mom would be undergoing surgery and chemotherapy. For that reason, I understood that I needed to stop thinking about the negative “what if” statements, and start believing that this incurable disease was treatable. Feeling as though my world had been turned upside down, I grew up a lot in those weeks to follow while realizing that the loved ones in my life are most important to me. I quickly learned to never take the little things for granted, and to be appreciative for what I have been given. When I was in middle school, my aunt was told that she had six months to live after battling cancer for a number of years. Like Rhio, my aunt outlived her doctor’s prediction and courageously fought her monster for another five years. She never allowed the cancer to stop her from living the life she desired. I truly believe that “life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain.” Even when faced with an unthinkable diagnosis, I believe it is important to fight for your goals and what you believe in.

The inner strength I have gained from my family is a quality I will forever possess. Like Rhio, I am a fighter, so if I were to be faced with a deadly cancer prognosis and given less than one year to live, I would prepare for the fight of my life knowing that I can overcome this challenge and do it with flying colors. Some diseases have the ability to limit our lifespan and penetrate our health with carcinogens, but it does not have the capability of taking away the quality that matters most. Relay for Life is an organization that honors cancer survivors, pays tribute to those lives that have been lost due to the disease, and helps raise money for cancer research while inspiring millions of people to fight back in conjunction with the American Cancer Society. At the Dodge County Relay For Life walk in Kasson, Minnesota, my hometown, the light that outshines the entire event is the powerful word “hope.” Rhio’s story is one of hope, and I believe that with hope anything is possible. If I were to be given a death sentence, I would instill my thoughts with hope and faith in God while researching my cancer prognosis like a maniac.

If I was diagnosed with carcinoma, I would take into consideration all of the possible methods to fight my cancer. I would outline the positive and negative effects of the conventional treatment options of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, but I would also research the unconventional therapies that Rhio studied. My decision would be based upon the treatment that offered me the most benefits to my overall health. Rhio’s book, They Said Months, I Chose Years: A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story, would be my guide to configuring a plan of action against this diagnosis. I would be determined to schedule multiple meetings with professional clinicians and researchers, in hopes of gaining their educational knowledge of my prognosis while asking for their guidance and support of my decisions. Additionally, I would seek support from my family and friends. With the helpful resource of my University’s library, I would branch out and study under my own self-disciple for alternative methods by looking for scholarly books, articles, journals, newspapers and clinical studies. Just as Rhio did, I would formulate a plan to fight back and beat the odds against cancer with my in-depth search, guidance from my clinicians and my everlasting hope and determination.

James “Rhio” O’ Connor was an incredible person who was determined to fight back against his cancer, just as I would be if I were given the same diagnosis. Rhio’s life is not a story of surrender, rather it is an example of how to live and fight with cancer, perhaps even by means beyond that of conventional methods of cancer treatment. Waking up each day knowing that I had cancer would make me feel incredibly uncertain, but Rhio’s story teaches us that as long as we stay committed to our goals anything is possible. Rhio was given a death sentence, but cancer was not the death of him. He retained an admirable spirit and attitude throughout his battle, and when all odds were against him, Rhio chose to take a stand and to develop a plan that allowed him to significantly outlive his prognosis. James “Rhio” O’ Connor’s story touches the hearts of many while inspiring others to have hope that overcoming the monster of cancer is possible.

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