I have heard that a human’s will to live is a vastly unchartered territory, a beautiful landscape untouched by metal diagnosis or medical assumption. Watching my own grandmother’s face comprehend the harsh reality the word cancer brings into perspective, I gained a newfound respect for those who search outside of the medical dictionaries for cures and look inside of themselves for an inner ambition to live. James Rhio O’Conner was a man who believed in the strength of his humanity and of his livelihood. He placed his faith on an intangible belief, on the ability to rise above what seems like a concrete ending. His story resonates within me in a place where I am thankful to open my eyes to the morning, whether it brings sunshine or rain.
Mr. O’Conner’s story has a personal connection to me. As a 21 year old American, I have been surrounded with images of living life to the fullest for as long as I can possibly remember. Everything in American youth culture encourages what I like to call “beautiful living”, living to find happiness in yourself and in others. Unfortunately for older generations, I feel as if they are encouraged to be more complacent and more accepting of the conceptions society has of them. This manifests in many varying ways, but one that is most blatant is the recurrent circumstance of older patients being ignored as catalysts for a long life. When I heard Mr. O’Conner’s story, I saw many spectrums presented, the most prevailing image being that of giving up on another’s life simply because of their age. This can also be identified as ageism.
Because I am an African-American from Southern Georgia, I have experienced more than my fair share of encounters with preconceived notions and inflexible attitudes about my life and the value of it. I have lived the reality of expecting the “beautiful life” American perspective while in truth only receiving an empty façade based on stereotypes. I see that same bias in Mr. O’Conner’s diagnosis. In a world where it is hard to imagine a young African-American woman from Southern Georgia excelling in mainstream America, it is also difficult to imagine a 61 year old man surviving pleural mesothelioma , a rare cancer found in the lungs, and pursuing a life of purpose. It may be hard for some to equate the two stories for they are of different people and of unlike details. However, to me, the basic undertone of James Rhio O’Conner’s story is a fight to reach a breakthrough. It is a struggle to listen to your heart and believe beyond what the general consensus quotes to you about your circumstance. In the spirit of human nature, every situation is unique and every case is a new variable for an old statistic. Out of six billion people in the world, it should reverberate in our lives that there can never be a predictable measure on the willpower of the human spirit.
If I were to be confronted with Mr. O’Conner’s situation, which may be a genuine possibility in the future, I would begin with some time to myself to think and understand the situation that has been bestowed upon me. I would find a quiet time in my dorm room, most likely around 3 a.m., and cry until I could not sustain any more tears. Then, as Mr. O’Conner probably did, I would take a deep breath and decide to live. The first active move I would make would be to share my story with the world, starting with my campus and my hometown community. If I was vulnerable with loved ones, my school, my city and even strangers about my fears and my need for help, I trust they would feel connected to me, just as I feel connected to Mr. O’Conner. My first initiative would be to make an internet blog and video log for everyone to see. I would blog everyday about my concerns with my doctor’s prognosis and symptoms I notice of myself. The video log would have a manifest and latent function. The manifest function would be for doctors and community medical leaders to visually see the effects of my cancer treatments or non-treatments. The latent function would be to make myself more personable, to truly make myself more than just a “patient”.
Next, I would solicit Graduate students on my campus and on campuses around the area to look at my blog, and even perhaps use my case for their graduate thesis. I feel this would be a smart decision to make because graduate students are not trapped by their experience, meaning they are not afraid to research innovative treatments beyond what they have done themselves. For this same reason, I would look to my collegiate peers for their reasoning and support. I know that to them, I am more than an “incurable case”: I am a valued part of a community. I would ask campus organizations to host fundraisers to help pay for my different doctor’s visits and treatments because I would not be able to afford the cost on my own. As far as my own personal research, I would make sure to research the history of my cancer like the time period from which it surfaced and cases that involve my particular cancer, including the survivors of those cases. I would then look for natural treatments that could aid in my recovery such as dieting, exercise and perhaps meditation.
In between my researching and outreach, I would most importantly make sure to maintain a “beautiful living” state of mind. I would never give up on myself or the strength of my spirit. I think that may be one of the most important facets of treating any type of illness, whether it is cancer, diabetes, heartbreak or disappointment. People like Mr. O’Conner know this and have an inner light that knows how to shine. I would simply try my best to shine as bright as theirs.