Bunker, Eric A. | Surviving Mesothelioma

Bunker, Eric A.

A couple of years ago, my father-in-law died of pancreatic cancer. He was an old man who had lived a good life. We were sad to let him go, but felt a sense of rejoicing for a life well lived in service to family and community. A few months before that, we lost my mother, who died of a stroke. She also was old, but had good health and independence up until the last week of her life. We felt the same for her as we did for my wife’s father. If this was not enough, we received notification as we traveled on the way to my father-in-law’s funeral of my brother’s sudden passing from a myocardial infarction. This was a bit more tragic as he had more life to live. However, this does not diminish the value of his life as he had chosen since his youth to live a life of service to family and community. No doubt, he is continuing that service in the realms above.

Cancer does not run strong in my family. Of my twenty or so aunts and uncles along with nearly two hundred first cousins and their children, so far only a few have had and/or died of cancer. However, that has not been the case in the community where I live. We seem beset with individuals and families struggling with various kinds of cancer, with the majority of them being children or working adults. (To my knowledge, none has had to deal with Mesothelioma as Rhino O’Connor did) We rally about them, take meals to them, help them care for their family and property, including sometimes raising money for them. Gratefully, most have beaten their cancers back and have survived. One might suspect local environmentally problems, but as our community is in a major growth section of the metropolitan Phoenix area, most of our people have recently moved in from other areas.

Watching others with cancer has offered me a window on how people deal with such grave illnesses. All that I have seen have dealt with it with a great deal of faith and courage. Whether they have remained alive or have passed away from their illness, theirs and their family’s spiritual health vastly improved by going through the experience. Their struggles have also blessed the community and softened our hearts. Never the less, there is one fact that has bothered me. Most cancer sufferers have accepted without question the standard care given out by the traditional medical community almost as if it were blind devotion to brand loyalty or an old time religion of some sort. I am certainly not against the traditional medical world, but, like Rhino O’Connor, I find that there is much more out there, that can be as effective without all the side effects, or at least complementary to standard protocols. I have personal extensive experience to back that claim up.

As a young man, I worked in the HVAC industry, and we sealed duct and flue joints with asbestos furnace tape. Since the seriousness of Mesothelioma has come out, my doctors routinely check for it and gladly it has not shown up yet. My struggles with health came in the form of a new illness commonly called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I have battled with it for over thirty years. I like Rhino O’Connor, have taken the attitude of researching as much as I can and trying anything reasonable that will work or at least rise to the level of modifying symptoms while improving functionability. If I had adhered religiously to the standard medical protocols or to the non-traditional practitioners to the exclusion of the other, I would not be alive today to tell the story.

I have always found it discouraging to deal with the oft times arrogance and exclusiveness found in much of the traditional medical community. It seems that medicine has evolved into a kind of “fast food” process of diagnostic codes accompanied by their prescribed methods of treatments, with practitioners receiving punishment for going outside the accepted. In the last few decades, because the non-traditional medical world has been pushing hard on the standard medical community with real and hard data, I have seen a softening of the arrogance and more openness to incorporating new ideas.

All too often, many of the major milestones in treatment of chronic and terminal illnesses have come at the hands of patients or their loved ones who refuse to accept the norm and use existing research to come up with new solutions such as Rhino O’Connor has done. Another well-known case is the efforts of Augusto and Michaela Odone with their son Lorenzo who had adrenoleukodystrophy, a genetic disorder, which at the time was a fatal incurable illness. Pouring over a great deal of existing research, they developed a specialized cooking oil, now called “Lorenzo’s Oil”, which kept the symptoms from progressing. Like Rhino and the Odone’s, most have done this landmark research at their own expense while bucking the naysayers in the traditional medical community.

A significant achievement in life is self-sufficiency with a full lifestyle that is largely free from want, fear, pain and illness. However, many discover a higher sense of spiritual maturity and ascertain that certain attitudes and behaviors are more worthwhile and satisfying than just achieving and enjoying the fruits of one’s labor. As Rhino O’ Connor found out, that connecting to things and powers higher than self is the crowning jewel of life, to give selflessly so that others unknown behind will have an easier time, is the true savor of life. Perhaps it is part of the “Pay it Forward” concept. It is the acknowledgement that our greatest blessings have come as the result of other’s unselfish gifts to future unknown generations.

In the east to west American migrations of the nineteenth century, the vast majority of the immigrants were those heading to the goldfields of California or the fertile grounds of Oregon and Washington. Most organized themselves into companies for assistance and protection, and with great courage, they did remarkable things. However, most did little to improve the trail crossed unless it benefited them directly, as they felt little connection to unknown others coming behind. On the other hand, in examining the Mormon migration coming from Iowa to the Great Salt Lake, the companies that crossed felt spiritually connected to countless unknown others, with their religion and the persecution they had experienced the only common bond. They unlike the California/Oregon travelers, improved trail conditions, planted crops at strategic locations, stopped to make bridges over creeks and gullies, including setting up ferries for major river crossing. When they successfully settled in the intermountain west, they gave money to a Perpetual Immigration Fund, so that fellow members, most generally from Great Britain and northern Europe, could come join them, even if they did not have the funds to finance the journey. These pioneers were selfless bridge builders, willing to sacrifice personal needs for the benefit of unknown others without desire for compensation or accolades.

The same is true of Rhino O’ Connor and many others like him who so dedicate themselves to the betterment of unknown others with no thought of personal reward, who choose in times of significant personal struggle, selfless service over crushing self-pity bewailing an unwanted fate. How much alleviated suffering is accomplished, and how many lives these kind of people save is incalculable. With wonderful certainty, its effects exponentially expand down the generations. It is my desire to continue to try to emulate this example.

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