Balsamo, Tabatha A.

Rhio O’ Connor was a mesothelioma survivor; he found his own path to outlive his prognosis by actively participating in finding an adequate therapeutic protocol along side with his doctors. He did a lot of research and talked to countless doctors, researchers and patients. In the process, he learned about different therapies and coping techniques. He was given a year to live; instead, he lived more than six years.

Rhio’s life is truly an inspiring story; it not only reminds us of what hope and faith can accomplish, but also about the ever-fighting human spirit. Faith, hope and spirit are unique to human nature and each one of us has the knowledge to experience them, not only in times of stress, but in our everyday life.

I have sometimes wondered what would happened if I was diagnosed with cancer. There haven’t been any cases of cancer in my family, but I lost someone dear to me to this life-threatening disease. I watched him feel pain, anger, sadness, happiness and joy throughout his treatment, but I was also there when he lost his hair, voice, and finally his life.

I have also seen up close how this life-threatening disease can affect the lives of so many little ones and their families. I used to volunteer for the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health. Children from different nationalities with cancer, HIV, cerebral palsy, and cystic fibrosis can come to the US with their families, and stay at this place while receiving treatment at the NIH. While volunteering, I used to help Hispanic families to express their concerns and understand procedures and treatments (I speak Spanish fluently); but I also provided them with emotional support. I watched so many times children with cancer cry, rejoice when finding out that their cancer had gone into remission, argue with parents and asking them why this had happened to them, and pray for a cure. In many unfortunate cases, I saw families break apart due to this illness.

After experiencing moments of great happiness and deep sadness, I have asked myself what I would do if I was diagnosed with cancer. Since I am a deeply emotional person, I would undoubtedly go through the five stages of the grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. It would be during this last stage that I would find a way to survive! After reading a great number of books on stress management techniques, practicing meditation, taking a Stress Reduction class and majoring in Health Promotion, I can say that I would definitely adopt a plan. First and foremost, I would start treatment right away and I would try every possible treatment recognized by Western medicine: chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, etc. Depending on the kind of cancer, I would also do some research in the literature world and analyze new treatments. If I had mesothelioma, which is a rare form of cancer that develops from the protective lining that covers many of the body’s internal organs (the mesothelium), I would, for example, begin my research at www.survivingmesothelioma.com. This is an excellent source of information about this particular type of cancer. I would also look for possible clinical trials through the NIH portal and discuss these possibilities with my doctor. I would not be afraid of trying experimental drugs and even participating in studies with hallucinogens (I have read a couple of studies about LSD and cancer patients).

While following Western practices, I will also seek alternative methods. I would probably try acupuncture, Reiki, music therapy, and even humor therapy (laughter has actually proven to boost the immune system). I definitely would not stop meditating! In addition, I would continue exercising and having good eating habits.

Most important of all, I would seek comfort in others and would try to pass it unto others. I would try to spend as much time with my loved ones cherishing each moment with them as it was the last one. I would also join a support group and maybe even create one. I know this for sure: I would volunteer as much as I could. Volunteering has provided me relief in times of great stress, and I know that it would also help me to cope with cancer.

I know this may sound a little bit too ambitious and extremely optimistic but I can confidently say that I am a fighter! I have experienced a great deal of sad moments in my life, but I have always known that when you feel optimistic about something and you fight hard for it, it will come true. I would not proclaim defeat until I knew that that was it; even if I knew that I had two months to live, I would enjoy every moment, I would remind my loved ones of how much I loved them (by the way, I would also ask them not to have a funeral in my name and make them promise to create a scholarship fund in my name), and would continue with my treatment. As I am finishing writing this essay, the lyrics of a song just came to mind; I think they summarize how badly my desire to live is and how much I love life even in times of adversity:

“Well, I will go down with this ship

And I won’t put my hands up and surrender

There will be no white flag above my door

I’m in love and always will be…”

(Dido, White Flag)

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