James “Rhio” O’Connor is truly an inspiration to all who have been touched by cancer. Mr. O’Connor’s mesothelioma, the out of control, abnormal growth of cells of the mesothelium or membranous lining of his lungs, metastasized to the point where he was given only one year to live by traditional medical providers. He refused to accept this prognosis and fought with his intellect. If only the growth of these abnormal cells could be kept in check and not allowed to spread to other vital organs or destroyed completely, then survival was possible. The problem is that the switch to turn off these cells and prevent them from multiplying is difficult to find. Mr. O’Conner instinctively knew there was a switch and did everything he could to pull it. He also knew that although his cancer was probably caused by exposure to asbestos, it was his body and therefore he had some control over this parasite. I have yet to read his book, “They Said Months, I Chose Years: A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story”, but from what I have been able to research, he utilized his mind to fight back. Beside the traditional treatments of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, he took control through nutritional supplementation, cancer-fighting foods, exercise and importantly mind over matter. He even seemed to accept the cancer by naming it “Mr. Meso”. His efforts extended his prognosis by more than 6 years, an amazing accomplishment.
His cancer is not unlike the cancers which have brought so much physical and emotional pain to my family. Too many of my family members have been diagnosed, treated and lost to this parasitic, evil disease which seems to have a life of it’s own: Those close to me who have lost their lives include both of my grandmothers, one to metastatic lung cancer and the other to metastatic breast cancer, my paternal grandfather died from metastatic esophageal/stomach cancer, a great uncle suffered for months with metastatic lung cancer, recently a maternal great aunt died from metastatic breast cancer and finally a maternal uncle at age 42 lost his life to metastatic brain cancer (glioma) which left my 3 female cousins without a father. A current survivor is a paternal aunt who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The most important person in my life who has been affected by cancer is my mother, diagnosed last year with breast cancer. I stood by feeling helpless as she went through surgery, then the sometimes tortuous chemotherapy and currently hormonal therapy which is not without significant side effects. Like Mr. O’Connor, she has spent hours reading books, asking questions of those who are medically knowledgeable and researching information on-line to make sure her treatment is consistent with the most up-to-date therapy. She chose an oncologist and surgeon whom she was comfortable with after researching their credentials and recommendations from other patients, friends and family. She has avoided many foods including certain supplemental vitamins and minerals that would otherwise be considered helpful. Understandably, her journey has not come without uncertainty and anxiety concerning her future. However, she has chosen to become an active participant in her treatment, refusing to take the role of “victim”. I believe having a positive outlook in this type of situation has a very important impact on a patient’s outcome due to the strong power of the mind-body connection.
As a sophomore nursing student, I am being proactive in my fight against cancer as my research has already begun. Wonderful resources are available on the internet in places such as Cancer Monthly, the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute. In practice, I have also discovered that a simple smile, touch and empathic listening go a long way in helping people emotionally and physically, no matter what their illness. Yes, I hate cancer, I hate the word, and I hate what it has done to so many good people. However, this negativity is unhealthy. Instead of expending energy on negative emotions, I am going to follow the examples of Mr. O’Connor and my mother and spend it trying to understand how to correct it. As Steve Droke was quoted, “Knowledge is power and enthusiasm pulls the switch.” I am confident that the switch can and will be pulled permanently in the foreseeable future.