There are not many people throughout the world who can be deemed truly inspirational. Truly inspirational people are those who by their selfless efforts, actions and words invoke in us the passion to persevere, to hope and to believe that we as human beings are capable of doing unimaginable, extraordinary things. They encourage us to search our very hearts and souls to find that which makes us unique and use it for the betterment of humanity and allow us to realise that we are ultimately capable of doing so much. Every day they inspire millions of ordinary people by their strength, determination and courage. One such person is James “Rhio” O’Connor.
James “Rhio” O’Connor was a very inspirational man who triumphed despite his advanced cancer diagnosis and poor prognosis. Mr. O’Connor was diagnosed with Mesothelioma and like many others who are diagnosed with this rare form of cancer, he was informed by his doctors that he had only a few months to live. Mesothelioma is cancer of the Mesothelium. The Mesothelium is a protective membrane that lines most of the internal organs of the body. Mesothelioma is a disease in which cells of the Mesothelium become abnormal and divide uncontrollably. These cells then invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. This type of cancer is very rare and affects approximately 2000-3000 Americans every year. It mainly affects men because of the occupational hazards they encounter at their work sites such as exposure to asbestos, which is a carcinogen that is the major risk factor for developing Mesothelioma. It is estimated that exposure to asbestos in the work place accounts for about 70 to 80 percent of all cases of Mesothelioma. However, some people develop Mesothelioma without any known asbestos exposure.
What is really inspiring about James “Rhio” O’Connor is the way in which he handled his diagnosis. When he was diagnosed with Mesothelioma in 2001 at the age of 61, he was told by his doctors that he had only months to live. Mesothelioma is a cancer with a very poor prognosis because of the histology and disease characteristics, therapy is usually ineffective and surgery is not usually an option. However, instead of accepting his fate, Mr. O’Connor took matters into his own hands, and created his own path to survivorship and living beyond cancer. In doing so he outlived his prognosis by six years. He did not allow this disease to control his life. He instead did extensive research about Mesothelioma and the available treatment options. He also explored other alternative methods of treating his disease such as simply changing his diet. Doing this required a lot of strength and determination on his part. He successfully extended his life as well as his quality of life and became an inspiration to many other cancer patients by encouraging them though his courage and discipline to “think outside the box” and seek the path of health that is right for them. He also reminded us that “a diagnosis was not a destiny” (www.survivingmesothelioma.com). This really spoke to me because I believe that as human beings we have the power to ultimately create our own path in life even in the face of tremendous challenges. Although Mr. O’ Connor’s discipline enabled him to outlive his diagnosis, I believe that it was ultimately his passion for life and unrelenting hope for the future that really inspired him to survive.
If I were ever to face a cancer diagnosis I would take a similar life preserving and life affirming course of action. Like Mr. O’Connor I would ensure that I am well informed about the type of cancer I have, what stage it is in and what are my possible treatment options. The most important thing that I would do is to ensure that I understand the disease and the process of diagnosing and treating it. I would obtain information from the internet, books, other doctors and health care professionals, medical journals, encyclopaedias, magazines, newspaper articles, medical conferences, cancer advocacy organizations and patients. Getting all the available facts will help to educate me about my disease and enable me to work with my health care team to make appropriate decisions regarding my treatment options. I would also be very involved during every step of my treatment and definitely take charge of my recovery. Whether it requires surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormonal or alternative forms of treatment such as yoga, changing my diet, nutrition and level of physical activity, I would do whatever it takes to survive cancer.
The human spirit is probably the most important part of cancer recovery and survivorship. I am a very religious person so faith and prayer would be essential ways of coping with every obstacle I face. The support and care provided by medical professionals as well as the support and comfort of my family and friends will aid me during my struggle. Armed with confidence in my cancer medical care, faith, emotional and social support, and of course the love and support of my family I would be able to transition from cancer patient to survivor to victor. I would also take time for self reflection and chart the course for a more purposeful life. I would use every possible opportunity to make my life count by doing as much as I possibly can to inform others about cancer by becoming a cancer advocate. I would use my experience as an avenue through which I can educate and support other cancer patients.
Mr O’ Connor’s story affected me on a personal level as there is a history of cancer in my family. I know all too well that being diagnosed with cancer can take a toll not only on the patient but the family members as well, as I witnessed with my cousin who was twelve when she was diagnosed with Lukemia. Unfortunately, by the time she received her diagnosis the cancer was already in its advanced stages. Throughout the ordeal I witnessed the strength of a bright, gifted girl with a beautiful voice, who faced every obstacle with an attitude and strength that was impossible not to admire. Like my cousin my grandmother and grandfather despite their heroic efforts experienced early deaths due to cancers, thus the impact of this illness is very familiar to me as I witnessed how having to deal with such trauma can unite not only a family but also a community. These realities helped to shape my outlook on life and led me on the career path to becoming an oncologist. Given my experiences, I am motivated to become an expert physician who passionately and compassionately cares for the whole person. I am inspired to conduct clinical research to provide state of the art medical care to my patients.
Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States and globally and is a potentially deadly disease that affects many people regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity or nationality. Cancer comes in many forms and its effects on the minds and bodies of both the patient and their families are just as varied. For some the battle with cancer can be a life long struggle, whereas for many others it involves a curative surgery. It has the power to put fear in the eyes of even the bravest among us, but it can also bring out such courage in a person to fight and survive… courage that they never knew they possessed. Cancer is a disease, which for some like James “Rhio” O’ Connor engenders a response that truly exemplifies the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”