Life. A four letter word that encompasses everything that we know. A word that defines our existence. A word that states our reason for being.
We live because we are created, by man and woman, and by no choice of our own. We live by breathing and moving and eating and sleeping. We live when our hearts beat, when our blood pulses, when our lungs inhale and exhale. But we do not truly live until we find purpose, passion, love, and meaning in our surroundings.
We are brought into the world with a tabula rasa, a blank slate, and from the moment we take our first breath, we are learning, examining, observing. We become who we are shaped to become, who we shape ourselves to become. We thrive and we weaken, we soar and we fall, and our experiences guide us through the maze of people, places, and events that we encounter. We are better than some and worse than some. We succeed and we fail. We accept and we sacrifice. We win and we fight. We live.
What is too often forgotten is that living is a privilege. Life can be taken away even more easily than it is given. Rhio O’Connor knew this firsthand. He was sixty one when he was unexpectedly diagnosed with a form of cancer called mesothelioma, brought on by his exposure to asbestos in his youth. The doctors pronounced it incurable; he couldn’t have surgery because of the position of the tumor and chemotherapy would bring to him pain and difficulty, for only a slight increase to his prognosis of one year to live.
Faced with this daunting news, most people would be devastated. I can’t imagine how I would initially find any hope at all, were I to receive the same news that Mr. O’Connor did. But he was determined to survive. He researched, asked questions, and managed to find out enough about treatment and diet to survive for more than six years beyond his prognosis.
There is undoubted heroism to be found in Mr. O’Connor’s determination. Hearing his story opens my mind and my heart to believe that if one man can defy a vicious disease like mesothelioma out of pure resolve, what might I be capable of doing in the same situation?
At first, I know I would be overwhelmed and distraught. I would feel lost and anxious and afraid about the future, about my friends and family. I might not know where to turn or where to derive my comfort.
But Mr. O’Connor’s story and his actions provide great insight for me. I see that his accomplishments are more than just honorable. They emanate truth.
The human mind, and human will, are stronger than most people know. I absolutely believe that part of Mr. O’Connor’s treatment included his fierce persistence to survive despite the weighty odds placed against him. He was passionate about life. I know this without ever having met him simply from hearing his story. Surpassing his prognosis by more than six years proves how important life was to him, how worthwhile it was for him to spend hours, weeks, and months discovering new ways to stay alive. What an incredible feat.
I am awed by this man’s actions. His story has allowed me to truly think about how I would react if I were to receive the news that he did. I still think that I would be afraid at first, but fear is a form of passion as well. I would try to use the fear and attempt to transform that emotion into the kind of stark determination shown to me by Mr. O’Connor.
I would want to know all the details of the disease. I would want to know each course of treatment so that I would be able to choose what I thought would work most effectively against the disease I was combating. I think I would begin researching, much the same as Mr. O’Connor did, and knowing my habits, I would make lists of treatments, other patients’ stories, places that I could receive the proper treatment.
I would initially be drawn towards the tested and tried forms of treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation, but if I was given the opportunity to learn more about a new drug that was innovative and proving successful, I would absolutely consider it.
I have a large support system of family and friends that I would make use of when deciding what I would need to do. I would discuss everything with the people closest to me, because I believe that your life is never truly your own. The people who love you are the people who give your life meaning; my support system would be the most important part of my decision making process.
I also believe that I would consult patients who had already been through what I was going through, because as much as my family and friends would help, it is unlikely that any of them could truly empathize with my situation. Having other patients there to listen, to guide, and to advise me would undoubtedly help both my spirit and my determination. Just knowing that others had survived what I was fighting against would give me hope that I know I would need.
I know how easy it is to forget the fragile nature of life. Each day that goes by is often “just another day”. But for someone like Rhio O’Connor, each day following his diagnosis was never “just another day”. It was another day of survival. Another day of fighting against a disease that threatened him relentlessly. He surely never took his days for granted.
That is how we should live more often. We should be grateful for every moment that we are alive, because once we lose that passion for life, we are closer to being lost ourselves. And once we are gone, we cannot come back. We should cherish our loved ones, our opportunities, our happiness while we have them. It is worthwhile to live each day believing in the power of yourself, the power of the people who surround you, and the power of life. There is nothing else that can better honor those who have gone before us and have fought for us in the way that people like Rhio O’Connor have.
Therefore, in the words of country artist Tim McGraw, “Someday I hope you get the chance, to live like you were dying.”