Peritoneum is a layer of epithelial tissue that covers the abdominal organs and produces a lubricating fluid so the organs can easily move or contract. Pleura is a membrane of epithelial tissue that surrounds the lungs. Pericardium covers and protects the heart. All of these membranes are types of mesothelium, which is a very important part of the body considering it protects then organs and produces a fluid so that organs, like the heart, can move without difficulty. Mesothelioma is when cells of the mesothelium undergo rapid cytokinesis, a physical splitting of the original cell into two more cells. Once this process begins it is very difficult to stop because the corrupted DNA of the original cell that began the rapid division is in every daughter cell of that original cell, so the process of rapid cell division occurs in every cell. Most cases of mesothelioma begin in the pleura or peritoneum, though it is common for the malignant cells to spread throughout the body. These cancer cells can severely damage tissues and organs. Mesothelioma occurs in men more than women and the risk increases with age. Over 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year. Being exposed to asbestos is a major risk factor of mesothelioma, although mesothelioma can develop without exposure. Treatment for mesothelioma depends on the location of the cancer, stage of the disease, and the patient’s age and health. Conventional treatment methods include radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. A particular website, www.survivingmesothelioma.com, provides useful information about mesothelioma.
Being diagnosed with mesothelioma can be traumatic and to some, it is considered a death sentence. James Rhio O’Connor was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in October, 2001 at the age of sixty one. His diagnosis was caused by asbestos exposure and he was given less than a year to live. The location of his cancer, near the spine, was deadly because it was inoperable. James had another option, chemotherapy, which would impair the quality of his remaining life and did not guarantee to improve the length of his life. His oncologist suggested for James to get ready for an untimely death. James Rhio O’Connor wrote the book “They Said Months, I Chose Years: A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story.” James survived the doctor’s prognosis of months for almost eight years by working with many professionals. He created a regimen for over one hundred supplements a day, changed his diet, and practiced mind-body medicine. Mesothelioma eventually gave James death, but did not destroy his life, as several doctors claimed it would.
It is difficult to ask someone what they would do if diagnosed with a terminal illness such as mesothelioma. I can relate moderately with James and other people diagnosed with cancer. A member of my family was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004, my aunt. She was very close to me and to see cancer take her life was shocking to me. My aunt, when diagnosed with lung cancer, was given surgery to take out the small malignancy in one of her lungs. After surgery, the cancer appeared to be gone. About one and a half years after the surgery she began to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, or so it appeared. She began to forget phone numbers, friends’ and family’s names, and became very confused frequently. She saw several of very qualified oncologists in the area. She was given the news that the cancer that began in her lungs had spread to her brain. She had several malignant tumors in her brain that was inoperable, one in the very interior of her brain. She was hospitalized several times and went through rounds of radiation and chemotherapy until she passed, six months after the diagnosis of cancerous tumors in her brain. Through the time until she passed, she remained in severe pain; due to chemotherapy she had lost her hair and appetite. She had lost very much weight, by the end of her fight; she weighed about one hundred pounds, a very dramatic change. A few months before she died she was sent home from the hospital, placed on a feeding tube, and was confined to her bed. Due to the confinement of her bed, she developed painful bed sores. She did not have the opportunity to seek other alternatives to chemotherapy or radiation due to the advanced stage of cancer and her severely impaired health. My aunt died in late 2006 at the age of fifty six. It is very unfortunate that cancer took her life at a relatively young age, but she did lead a fulfilling life, raising one daughter, happily married, and spending her last years with her beloved granddaughter. She brought joy to her friends and family and she will be remembered as a great mother, wife, grandmother, and friend. When asked what I would do if I was diagnosed with a terminal cancer and given a short time to live, my mind is swarming with ideas. This is a significant question to me because I would one day like to become a doctor, possibly even oncologist. I would like to become a doctor to help people, I would like to give people options that my aunt was not able to have, and not just save lives, but improve the quality of life. When diagnosed with cancer, such as mesothelioma, I would not give up on survival and let my prognosis be my expiration date. I would seek help from various doctors and specialists. I would gather information about my illness and try to better help myself. Though, I would not be fearful or worry so much about finding a cure or living as long as I possibly can. To me, the quality of life is more important than worrying about how long I am going to live. I would seek alternative treatments given surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy did not work. If I had run out of options after all the conventional and alternative treatments that may not have worked for me, I would hope to reflect on my life and hope that it was incredibly fulfilling. I would hope that I was the best friend, family, professional, and person I could be and I would spend the rest of the time I had with friends and family, enjoying life. James Rhio O’Connor is an inspiring man, he had the courage to seek hundreds of medical alternatives to battle his cancer and write a book detailing his struggle with mesothelioma to inspire and help others.