Beyond the Prognosis: Conquering Mesothelioma
I sit in a cold room waiting to be seen. A few framed medical diagrams hang on beige walls, and a nurse occasionally passes the half-opened door. I pick up a self-help medical brochure in boredom. I look through it and then put it down in frustration. I close my eyes and I see my girls at home—my daughter flipping through a book and my granddaughter laughing and bouncing full of life. Then I open my eyes to see an oncologist with a chart in his hand. He stands in the doorframe and is without expression. “Sir… we have your biopsy results.”
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the mesothelium, a layer of tissue which surrounds and protects many of the body’s internal organs. Asbestos, a mineral found in nature and used in many industrialized manufacturing processes, is regarded as the largest risk factor for the cancer, as previous exposure to asbestos is common in most cases. In addition, the risk increases with age because complications can take decades to appear after asbestos exposure, which would account for the larger number of older men diagnosed compared to younger men (“Mesothelioma Basics,” qtd. in “Statistics”).
Over the next week, I talk to several doctors regarding treatment, but the outlook is grim. Feeling fearful, hopeless, and like I have no other options, I make the arrangements to begin a standard treatment regimen.
Conventional treatments for mesothelioma include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, although some professionals believe that their results are unimpressive, citing the suffering which patients undergo while in treatment takes up the best of their remaining lives while yielding few long-term benefits (“Mesothelioma Basics”).
The days and nights pass. I spend them with my girls because I want to enjoy what little health and time I have left. I relax in my living room one afternoon, unsure of what to do. I finally start reading the cancer materials I was given during the months before my diagnosis. I find an article about a fellow cancer patient.
James Rhio O’Connor was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2001. His prospects were bleak and he was given about one year to live. Surgery was not an option, but despite the dire news, he did not accept his fate. He declined radiation and chemotherapy and set out on his own campaign to survive his cancer. He actively researched mesothelioma, looked to alternative treatments, and sought the input and experience of doctors and patients alike. In doing so, Mr. O’Connor was able to live six years beyond his prognosis, proving that intellect, relentless hard work, and the passion and appreciation for life could overcome even the largest of hardships (“James ‘Rhio’ O’Connor Memorial”).
I glance up from the page to see my girls. I look at my daughter nose-deep in a book. I turn to look at my granddaughter bouncing around the house full of energy. I go back to my reading—to the articles, to the survivors’ testimonials, to Mr. O’Connor’s struggles and achievements—and I realize that my decisions alone will be what greatly determine my outcome. Mr. O’Connor took control of his life and refused to give in, and his inspiring story forces me to recognize that while life itself isn’t over, the one lived in fear and hopelessness must be.
We make a few day-long trips to the library. The staff there helps us to find the right books, newspapers, and magazines relating to mesothelioma, which all prove very useful in providing me a thorough-enough background to know my situation. My daughter also helps me to get online to collect more specific and up-to-date information than what is readily available in the library.
Researching and accessing information has become easier with today’s technological advancements. To supplement your research in public and school libraries, you can utilize a wide range of online databases containing the latest journals, studies, and other helpful materials. Furthermore, the ability to communicate has gotten easier, as you can now instantly consult with people from around the world. Taking advantage of these opportunities and educating yourself is essential to overcoming mesothelioma.
It’s not long before I start chemotherapy. I’m reluctant. It’s not necessarily because of fear at this point, but more because of knowledge, because of what I’ve learned in the bit of research I’ve done. I know I’ll be in an ailing condition once treatment starts, which is not a favorable condition for what I now want. I want to learn, I want to earn back my right to live, and I want time with my family! The times with loved ones has been cut short already—why tarnish what’s left by going through a treatment with little hope and little chance? It’s the intellect and the love of life my girls have shown me, as well as Mr. O’Connor’s quest for knowledge and a second chance at life, which now inspire me. Against the advice of my doctors, I hold off on treatment and continue to look for other ways to fight the cancer and survive. It’s a serious risk, but going down a fighting, well-educated old man is a comforting idea.
In reading material both online and offline, in talking to dozens of professionals in person, over the phone, and even through e-mail, I learn of the various non-standard methods people across the world use to fight mesothelioma.
Alternative, non-conventional treatments are available, such as herbs, vitamins, and minerals; and studies have indicated that close to three quarters of cancer patients use both conventional and non-conventional treatments. It is crucial to point out, however, that regardless of the methods one does use to fight any form of cancer, qualified doctors should always be consulted and made to supervise the regimens (“Alternative Treatments”).
I speak with a dietician for advice on how to change my eating habits. While I lost my sweet tooth in my younger years, I have by no means a taste for healthy food, my weaknesses being beef jerky, summer sausage, and salty snacks. I strive to cut out the unhealthy foods and replace them with fruits, vegetables, and lean meat. My girls follow a similar but less extensive diet in support.
One of the ways Mr. O’Connor prolonged his life was to eat right and to take nutritional supplements. While changing the way you eat is not easy, a healthy diet consisting of protein, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals is important for everyone, and it is even more important for those fighting cancer (especially when choosing conventional treatment) (“James Rhio O’Connor,” “Benefits of Good Nutrition”).
I learn of mind-body medicine from a few doctors I meet. They tell me of a cancer patient who went through a promising new treatment. Not knowing whether it would be successful, the man believed that it would work and that he would get better. Such a simple yet strong belief kept him alive past his prognosis. But when it was discovered that the treatment method was not successful, he lost hope and quickly went into remission (Abascal et al.). From this, I learn that there’s no room for cynicism or doubt. As hard as cancer is, misery won’t make it any better, and it could make it worse.
Mind-body medicine is the idea that the mind and body are connected, that your mind or mood can affect the condition of your body and vice versa (“A Partnership for Wellness”). Research has indicated not adequately dealing with stress can result in tumors, ulcers, and other ailments. Stress properly managed, however, is important in avoiding such ailments (Abascal et al.).
Enduring this process—the diagnosis, research, and lifestyle change—has me feeling smarter, stronger, and more alive than ever. It’s not an easy process. It’s hard and terrifying in the beginning. But with the help and encouragement of so many people, I’m able to get through the hardest trials. To the many professionals that work alongside me and keep me on the right path, you have my sincerest gratitude. To my girls, whose intellect and zest for life are my emotional support, you have my profound love. And to the memory of James Rhio O’Connor, the synthesis of my girls, the union of great intelligence and a soaring passion for life, I extend my greatest admiration and appreciation.
Yes, I have mesothelioma, but no, I will not submit. My name is unimportant; what’s important is that I’m three months beyond my prognosis.
For more information on mesothelioma, including resources for finding the right professionals, learning about the available treatment options, reading survivors’ stories, and conducting your own research, please visit SurvivingMesothelioma: A Patient’s Guide.
Abascal, Juan R., Laurel Brucato, Patricia Stephenson, and Dominic Brucato. Essential Elements of Effectiveness. 3rd ed. Pearson Custom, 2006. Print.
“Alternative Treatments.” Surviving Mesothelioma: A Patient’s Guide. Cancer Monthly. Web. 21 Feb. 2010. <https://survivingmesothelioma.com>.
“Benefits of Good Nutrition.” American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, 4 Feb. 2008. Web. 21 Feb. 2010.
“James “Rhio” O’Connor Memorial Scholarship Fund.” Cancer Monthly: The Source for Cancer Treatment Results. Cancer Monthly. Web. 21 Feb. 2010. <http://www.cancermonthly.com>.
“James Rhio O’Connor.” Surviving Mesothelioma: A Patient’s Guide. Cancer Monthly. Web. 21 Feb. 2010. <https://survivingmesothelioma.com>.
“Mesothelioma Basics.” Surviving Mesothelioma: A Patient’s Guide. Cancer Monthly. Web. 21 Feb. 2010. <https://survivingmesothelioma.com>.
A Partnership for Wellness | Mind/Body Medicine. Web. 21 Feb. 2010.
“Statistics.” Surviving Mesothelioma: A Patient’s Guide. Cancer Monthly. Web. 21 Feb. 2010. <https://survivingmesothelioma.com>.