The Dead End Sign

The Dead End Sign

For my family and me, one of life’s greatest pleasures is driving up the Wyoming Wind River mountain range in the summertime. Beauty swirls all around us. The spruce and pine trees sway, spreading spicy aromas in the breeze, while vibrant wildflowers dance in the valleys. Dazzling streams splash and spray down the solid rock cannons. And sometimes, when these cannon walls angle just right, I can look down the mountain at the long road unfolding, morphing, widening, and branching off into other roads behind me.

As a young and somewhat naive college student, I often compare my life to this beautiful highway. My gaze sweeps across the countryside, staring at all the different roads zigzagging over the land. But the real beauty is I get to choose my road. Roaring up mountains, racing across deserts, or cruising through valleys, the choice is mine.

But what if it wasn’t?

What if my car suddenly broke down? What if I speed off the road? Or what if I ran directly into a Dead End sign?

A truly remarkable man named James “Rhio” O’Connor did run into one of these signs. A horrible yellow sign, in the form of a deadly cancer, mesothelioma hit him right in the middle of his road. Rhio learned that Mesothelioma is quite rare, and it involves cancerous cells forming in the mesothelium, a protective covering of the internal organs. There are two forms of this cancer, pleural and peritoneal. Pleural is the development of cancerous cells in the meslthelium around the lungs, while peritonel deals with the abdominal area. Both forms, however, were considered for many years to be a death sentence(“Mesothelioma Summary.”).

(For more information, go to

Therefore, Rhio was informed that he had only one year left to live. He was told he should make the most of it. He was told he should enjoy what little time he had left. In essence, he was told he should give up. Rhio, however, decided he did not want his road to conclude at this Dead End sign.

So he bulldozed right through it.

Rhio’s bulldozer of choice was knowledge and confidence. He flattened the doctor’s prognosis and plowed his own path using information he gained by extensive research. This truly inspirational man consulted doctors, read countless books, and decided which road his life was going to take. After forming his own treatment plans and making his own informed decisions, Rhio’s road stretched on another six years after that yellow cancer sign.

So now, the real question- if I found myself facing that same obstacle in the road, that same prognosis in the doctor’s office, that same Dead End sign- what decisions would I make? In all honesty, I have no inspiring or moving story to tell. No one in my family, including myself, has ever been diagnosed with any form of cancer. I have never had to make such difficult decisions, nor known the pain and fear of watching a family member struggle through them. I have, however, read and gained familiarity with Rhio O’Connor. And I believe this incredible man captured and exercised a truth about these difficult decisions. “When you fear something, learn as much about it as you can. Knowledge conquers fear.”- unknown author.

So, if my road took me to a small, cramped doctor’s office, where I discovered a Dead End sign, I would think of Rhio O’Connor. I would think about how he used knowledge and information to bulldoze through a doctor’s grim prognosis. I would think about how if he could conquer his fear though facts, I could to.

Then I would develop an attack strategy. Gaining information about my particular cancer, as well as various forms of treatment like surgery and chemotherapy would obviously be incredibly important. I don’t believe I would limit my options to conventional treatment. In fact, knowing me, I would probably sign up for a positive thinking class! Rhio believed, as I do, that strength and hope are just as important treatment tools as drugs and surgery. My family, however, would be the true signposts for my decisions of treatment. My strength, my hope, and my positive thinking all flows from them. Making an informed decision is very important to any cancer patient. But, to me, even more important are decisions that spare my loved ones the most heartache. Finally, these paths join together into the road less traveled, the road I would blaze for myself and for my family.

Located at the top of the Wind River mountain range is a ski resort, one of my family’s favorite restaurants. The sun is glinting off of the huge floor to ceiling windows as we pull into the parking lot. Climbing out of the car, my mother and father chat about going skiing and my older sister still jams to the music on her ipod. After clambering out of the backseat, my younger brother and sister race towards the restaurant’s front door. I am the last to step inside. But before I do, I stop and look back over the mountain. The white gravel road winds over the hills, into the trees, and then out of sight. I smile, thinking of a remarkable man and the choices he made. A man who conquered his fear. A man who blazed his own path.

Master Public Unknown Author. 26 Febuary 2010.
“Mesothelioma Summary.” 2009. Web. 26 Feb 2010. <>.

By: Bailey, Jessica

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