Berger, Nathaniel – Surviving Mesothelioma

Berger, Nathaniel

What To Do With A Dire Cancer Prognosis

A dire cancer prognosis would be a terrible blow to anyone. Some may debate whether it is more significant if you come face-to-face with your own mortality or that of someone you love dearly. Everything changes, friends, family, job, even day to day life. The meaning of it all is instantaneously changed, and you are not quite sure of all the things of which you were once sure. While I can never be sure of my actions until I am put into that position, I would like to think I would act similarly to James Rhio O’Connor when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a very rare cancer that develops most times by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a material that was used a lot in building materials for insulation in the twentieth century until it was found to cause mestothelioma and have a significant role also in lung cancer. Mesothelioma develops in the protective lining of the body’s internal organs. Symptoms include shortness of breath and chest wall pain. It is very difficult to diagnosis because its symptoms are not dissimilar to those from more common diseases. Mesothelioma comes with a very poor prognosis with only 10 percent of those diagnosed surviving three to five years after diagnosis. Doctors diagnosed James Rhio O’Connor at age 61 and gave him less than one year to live. Normal treatments were not options because of the position of the tumor and his desire for quality of life. O’Connor worked with professional clinicians to change his diet, practice mind-body medicine, and use over 100 supplements each day. Due to his determination and strength, he survived another seven and a half years dying at the age of 69 on July 11, 2009.

I am a very logical person. While the news would certainly be a shock, I would hope that I could move through the emotionality that comes with such a diagnosis to logical analysis of the diagnosis and treatment options in fairly short order. Time would be of the essence. I am a very competitive person; nothing is going to beat me. Because of these traits, I believe that my decision would be that I was going to do everything in my power to fight my disease. I would discuss my decisions with my family because I would especially need their support through an otherwise long and lonely fight. Their strength is what would allow me to go on during those rare times when I would feel as though I could not go any further.

Once my family was in place, it would be time to get moving. I would discuss with my doctor his recommendations for treatment. I would consider a wide variety of options beyond traditional chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery especially if the doctors believed that those more traditional options were unlikely to be helpful in my condition at this late stage. I would ask for referrals from my doctor for other oncologists or cancer specialists who were expert in my disease. I would talk to my friends and family to determine if they knew of any promising treatments or specialists who were experts in this particular disease. I would talk to the American Cancer Society and other cancer programs like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society that might have more resources and knowledge to help me find better treatments. I would travel to leading cancer centers known for their renowned expertise and success such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and Johns Hopkins Cancer Center in Baltimore. I would contact the Cancer Treatment Centers of America known for working with advanced cancers and using alternative treatments such as acupuncture, image enhancement, mind-body medicine, naturopathic medicine, and nutrition therapy. I would even look abroad if necessary. I know that the rules dealing with research outside of the United States are very different from the rules in our country. The rules of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who approve all new therapies, are much more strict and limit research options but they also protect us from research that is not well done. So, I would have to approach treatments abroad cautiously. Even if there was no solid proof of success, as long as there were no definitive risks, there would be no reason not to consider new investigational treatments. Our knowledge about cancer has grown so much in the last 50-100 years, but there is so much we do not yet know. We do not know the possible impact of adding unconventional treatments to conventional therapies. Cancer Monthly has recently stated that long term survival has not correlated with traditional methods and may in fact be related to the different unconventional methods that people use.

Once I was satisfied that I had reviewed all the relevant information that I could find rapidly, it would be time to make my decision. I would look at all the treatment options considering their length, their side effects and risks, outpatient procedure or not, and success rate. This decision would not be mine alone. While I would be willing to take all of the feedback from my doctors and my family as to what they considered the best option, the decision, probably the hardest one of my life, would be mine. While all this fast paced information gathering and logical decision making process was going on, there would still be emotional struggles to be won. I would work not to let my energy drain from all the decisions needing to be made. I would have to learn to live day by day making each moment count and holding each breath I take as precious and unique. Remaining aware of my own mortality is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it would be depressing, but it would also make everything in life so much more magnificent. Staying positive and finding ways to relax would be vital. A positive outlook can make a world of difference. I have evidenced it in my life before; and no doubt, it would help as I worked to overcome this challenge as well. The positive endorphins and the soothing effect of relaxing meditation, prayer, and even laughter have been known to help patients with debilitating diseases. I would need to envision myself as Hercules, unstoppable and invincible to the threatening cancer cells. Finally, no matter what, I would have to remember to ask for help when needed and let my family and friends become my core inner circle to talk to me, listen to me, or just sit with me when I needed them.

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