The “Impossible”

Rhio O’Connor is a shining example to all of us to Never, ever give up. After he was given an “impossible” diagnosis of mesothelioma, and given one year to live, he did whatever he could to beat the odds. He proved the experts wrong by living for years with the “impossible”.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer typically found in the sac surrounding vital organs of the body. The only recognized cause of this cancer is exposure to asbestos, often occurring many years before the cancer develops. There are many ways to treat this disease – conventionally through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, as well as unconventional methods. As with any disease, the strength of the human spirit and faith in something or Someone bigger than yourself are the powers that are needed to conquer the odds.

My story is similar, although I am not facing a cancer diagnosis. I am a mother of five active children. I live in a small, rural community. My husband is a high school teacher, and I have spent the last seventeen years primarily raising my children. Seven years ago, I slipped on the ice while getting out of my car. I didn’t think much of it at the moment it happened, but I had no idea how drastically it would change my life!

At first, I thought I was just a little sore. Several weeks later, when the pain was getting worse, I started going to the doctor to figure out what was wrong. Eight long months of tests, in four clinics, three hospitals, over 30 doctors and specialists, (and surviving a house fire) we finally had a diagnosis: a rare spinal cord injury called post-traumatic syringomyelia. I have a fluid-filled cyst in the center of my spinal cord that will never heal, but hopefully will not get worse. It causes chronic pain, and can affect every nerve below my neck. It can cause symptoms that mimic a stroke, and can cause temporary or permanent paralysis if proper precautions are not taken.

I was told that I will never be able to live a “normal” life. I will be on pain medication for the rest of my life, and the dosage will be periodically increased. Surgery is not advised since it probably won’t help, and may make the pain worse. Strenuous activity, coughing and sneezing, lifting more than 15 lbs., contact sports, altitude and barometric pressure changes are all things I need to avoid. This meant I could not care for my preschool twin boys, could not become an elementary teacher due to the demands on my body as well as the risks, or continue to do many of the day-to-day activities I loved. My hopes, dreams and plans seemed to disappear before my eyes – now all “impossible”.

I faced a choice: If I focused on the things that I lost, I could sit in a chair, become depressed and exist for a long time. Or, I could choose to focus on what I could still do and find a meaningful quality of life down a different path. The choice was obvious…I refuse to give up! I have researched my condition through the internet, the library, and through many in the medical community. There is not much that can be done at this point. I have tried many different solutions, and a few “out of the box” ideas. I have done the “impossible” and have decreased the amount of pain medication I need to function. I have gained employment with regular hours. I am going back to school to further develop my skills. Most importantly, I will not give up! I may have to live with this condition, but it will not define who I am.

My dream to make a positive contribution to society has taken a detour down a different road than I planned. I may not become an elementary teacher because of the risks to my health, but that gives me the opportunity to pursue my other dream of becoming a graphic designer. Creativity has always been my passion, and now I have a better opportunity to develop this area, and contribute to society. However, this will require more schooling, at a time when my oldest daughter is starting college and my other four boys are, or soon-to-be, teenagers. The money to pursue the dream is an obstacle, but not an impossibility. The time required for this education is a challenge, but the reward is worth the sacrifice.

I will never give up, and let my diagnosis put me in a chair to live out my life in mere existance. Rhio O’Connor didn’t. If you are facing a diagnosis of mesothelioma or another form of cancer, you can find information and inspiration at If you are facing impossible odds, learn all you can about the situation you are facing, find out what options you have and the expected outcomes, look for answers outside the box, and focus on what you CAN do rather than what you can’t. And above all, NEVER, EVER give up!

By Anderson, Ruth

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