The prospect of individual mortality is the most tormenting notion haunting each human being on the planet. While citizens fight wars for their countries and sacrifice careers to raise their children, the most powerful impetus behind any action is the imminent threat of one’s fate. In 2001, James “Rhio” O’Connor was faced with his greatest fear: the expectation that, within the year, he would lose his life to malignant pleural mesothelioma. Although the news was devastating, the doctor’s words were something more: unacceptable. O’Connor was emphatically unwilling to come to terms with losing his life, and he began an extraordinary journey that that transformed his life into a miraculous story of survival as well as an inspiring example of the power of the human spirit.
The bare facts reveal that O’Connor’s chances of survival were nominal. Pleural mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that attacks the pleura, a thin membrane covering the lungs and lining the chest wall. Commonly caused by overexposure to asbestos, this form of mesothelioma can take up to ten years to become detectable. Its central location in the chest cavity makes it especially dangerous because it can rapidly spread to the heart, outer chest wall, and down toward the abdomen. The typical prognosis considers pleural mesothelioma to be fatal within one year.
Under O’Connor’s circumstances, the medical forecast was particularly dark. His malignant tumor was positioned very closely to the spine, preventing the possibility of surgery; furthermore, without surgery, chemotherapy would be useless for all purposes besides damaging his quality of life. Any other patient in his shoes would have broken down and begun searching for ways to make his last few months merely comfortable; O’Connor, however, sought to do the impossible. He would survive the cancer that his doctor described as imminently fatal.
In the months that followed, O’Connor collaborated with a range of physicians and patients to develop a self-treatment that would prolong his life and overcome the ravaging effects of mesothelioma. He devoted innumerable hours to research and planning in order to establish a system that increased his vitamin intake, altered his diet, redirected his state of mind, and set him on a disciplined path toward survival. Against all odds, O’Connor employed the strength of his mind, body, spirit, and determination to extend his life by seven and a half years.
O’Connor’s story reveals an irony that testifies to the power of individual choice. Socialization trains us to accept what a doctor says as the final word; after all, physicians attend medical school for an average of ten years before they are allowed to practice. The implication of their expertise is that patients ought to trust the first professional medical opinion they hear. In exceptional cases, however, it is possible for one to overcome the prognosis and make a choice to outlast the odds against him. O’Connor could not bear the thought of losing his life, so he refused to accept his doctor’s words and accomplished the unthinkable.
If I were placed in O’Connor’s circumstances, I would take the same initiative to prolong my life and challenge the prevailing medical expectations. Learning of my rapidly approaching fate would inspire me to set my life onto a new path destined toward recovery. I would do as O’Connor did, seeking out professional advice from as many doctors as I could. I would visit countless clinics for new opinions, devote my evenings to conducting research online and in libraries, and become as knowledgeable as possible in the field of mesothelioma. Along the way, I would seize every piece of positive information that came forth, expanding my research whenever a particular remedy or regimen seemed to hold the keys to my survival. Such determination would prevent me from ruling out any possibilities; after all, when faced with an extraordinary challenge, the way to overcome it must be equally extraordinary.
O’Connor was successful, in part, because he looked beyond the traditional practices of chemotherapy and surgery in order to combat his cancer. The physicians told him that surgery would be too dangerous and that chemo would not contribute to his chances of survival; from a clinical standpoint, his fight for recovery was hopeless. Despite the emotional torment he must have suffered in the face of such a forecast, the hopelessness of O’Connor’s circumstances are precisely what influenced him to look into nontraditional remedies that would extend his life and delay the destruction of cells within his chest wall. He knew that, if he could not be cured clinically, his options were to accept his fate or seek a different form of treatment; he chose to develop his own regimen of treatment because, above all, he had made the choice to live.
O’Connor’s determination in the face of adversity teaches us the value of never admitting that a cure lies out of reach. While he did not defeat his cancer, he beat the odds by more than six years, a remarkable feat from which emerges a lesson about how to face the impossible. If I were standing in the office as the doctor proclaimed the direness of my circumstances, I would be forced to accept that traditional medical solutions were out the question. Who, after all, is better qualified to analyze the dangers of a particular surgery than the physician who has extensively studied my case? Nevertheless, I would not capitulate and retreat to my home to live out the rest of my life in inactivity; instead, I would bear the fact that surgery and chemo were impossible while simultaneously beginning my research into a world of nontraditional home remedies. Above all, I would adopt a positive attitude by convincing myself that, despite the chances of fatality, I was going to live.
If I were diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma today, I could not ignore the importance of technological networking and support groups to aid in my fight for survival. Just as O’Connor reached out to friends and clinicians for their immutable support, I would start a webpage that detailed my condition and the progress I made to combat it. Taking advantage of this technological opportunity would allow me to communicate with others who suffered from the same cancer; ideally, these individuals would be inspired by my endeavors and would begin research of their own to fight back against mesothelioma. Together, we could make contributions to a new field of study that gave patients a reason to continue living and the encouragement to seek nontraditional remedies.
Perhaps the most important thing I would attempt to establish is a legacy that would help future patients afflicted with a devastating medical condition. While personal survival is at the top of anyone’s short-term list, the bigger picture reveals the value of carving a path that others may follow and extend as they contribute to a cure for any fatal disease. O’Connor has already begun this path, and, in his shoes, I would hope that my endeavors laid the groundwork for future research into home remedies and nontraditional methods of prolonging life. From this groundwork, future sufferers of mesothelioma could find a way to outlast their own dire prognoses, and, eventually, we could develop a cure for this devastating cancer.
O’Connor’s story of survival is a testament to the power of the mind to overcome adversity. Even in the face of cancer, where it would seem that mere attitude would be useless in altering the course of a physical disease, O’Connor employed his mind by refusing to accept his fate and seeking an alternate remedy to extend his life. The task before him was grueling and required innumerable hours of exhausting dedication to a cause. Nevertheless, it was not a sudden medical miracle that added more than six years to his life; it was his determination. By refusing to come to terms with the seemingly unavoidable, O’Connor defeated the odds and proved to his doctors that their prognosis was not the route for him. His story is an inspiring example of human spirit that continues to uplift and encourage every one of us who has ever heard the name, James “Rhio” O’Connor.