Bilali, Peter – Surviving Mesothelioma

Bilali, Peter

Battling a Cancer Diagnosis

Recently, a local radio station has been playing a popular song by the musical band Nickleback titled “If Today Were Your Last Day”. I downloaded the song because the lyrics are compelling and touching. Reflecting on the words, I wondered what I would do if I knew that today was my last day or if I was told that my time here on earth was limited by a deadly cancer diagnosis. Rhio O’Connor was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer that forms in the lining of the lungs and is often caused by exposed to asbestos. Specific information regarding mesothelioma, the cancer that ultimately took Rhio’s life, can be found by visiting www.survingmesthelioma.

Like the lyrics of Nickleback’s song, Rhio’s story is inspirational. Rhio refused to accept his doctor’s one-year-left-to-live prognosis and with an amazing amount of determination, persistence and research, Rhio took charge of his treatment plan, made life-style changes to his diet and worked closely with clinicians to treat his cancer for seven a half years. “What’s worth the prize is always worth the fight” is a line from the third stanza of “If Today Was Your Last Day” by Nickleback, and Rhio fought for the prize of life for seven and a half years.

Over the past five years, I learned so much about fighting cancer from the experiences of a close family member. With the same intensity and attitude as Rhio O’Connor fought his diagnosis of mesothelioma, my Uncle Jim battled stage four glioblastoma multiforme, a highly malignant and common form of a cancerous brain tumor. When Jim was first diagnosed, he was given six months to a year to live. However, he outlived all the statistics and lived for three and one half years after his cancer diagnosis.

Jim accepted the diagnosis of brain cancer as a challenge. After his initial surgery to remove the mass, he lost his peripheral vision but it didn’t stop him from researching his condition and treatment options. Facing a cancer diagnosis, I would, just as Jim had done, regard the diagnosis as a challenge and plan my attack. I would find a doctor, or team of doctors, to help explore the best available treatment options. Jim spoke often and for extended periods of time about the people he had connected with across the country on the Internet who had been diagnosed with the same type and stage cancer. Jim used the Internet and the connections he made to help further research the most current chemotherapy drugs and radiation procedures and I would do the same.

Jim surrounded himself with a team of doctors who were not only specialists in their respective medical fields, but also who were willing to work together as a team, along with Jim, to determine the best course of treatment. A family member or close friend always accompanied Jim to his doctor’s appointments to take detailed notes during the discussions, and I would follow the same protocol. After reviewing the notes, I would, like Jim did, use the information to research further possible options.

Jim did his own research before his doctor’s appointments which enabled him to have educated discussions with his doctor regarding the wide range of available treatments and how they would impact his quality of life. Finding myself in the same situation as Jim would prompt me to follow Jim’s advice and research my options prior to meeting with my doctor which would help me make informed decisions.

Obtaining a second opinion from a specialist in the field of cancer from the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Washington, DC would be my next step. Although the doctors practicing at the NIH are primarily involved with research, they are privy to all the available treatment options and clinical studies. If my cancer was terminal, and I had exhausted all other forms of treatment, I would investigate the possibly of being a candidate for a clinical trial. Although risky, if was my last option to save myself or the life of someone who was diagnosed with the same type of cancer in the future, it would be a risk worth taking.

I would remain physically active. I know it’s not always easy, but I feel strongly that maintaining any level of physically activity would not only help me to fight though chemotherapy treatments, but would also positively impact the way I felt. Yoga is a powerful way to exercise and mediate. Developing meditation skills and being able to find my own sense of inner peace would help me tolerate testing and treatments.

Most importantly, I would regard the cancer diagnosis as a journey, even if it was evitable that it would be my last journey on earth. I learned from Jim that reconnecting with old friends, maintaining positive relationships and meeting new people along the way would help me keep a positive attitude. After his diagnosis, Jim knew his time on earth was limited and he made the most of each day. He visited his favorite places, got in touch with people from his past were important to him, became the best non-judgmental listener and searched for a spiritual connection.

Being faced with a cancer diagnosis is one of the most devastating situations a person can face. If I were diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer, I would do everything in my power to find a way to remain positive and beat the disease. Like Rhio, Uncle Jim lost his battle to cancer but the lessons their stories teach leave a lasting impression. Rhio’s story is a true testament of how love, determination and a positive attitude can overcome the inevitable. I can honestly say that I have been a witness to someone, like Rhio, who used his positive attitude and strength to fight through the toughest of times and, in the end, was a champion.

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