Chang, Elizabeth – Surviving Mesothelioma

Chang, Elizabeth

As a person who was aware that he was going to die soon, James “Rhio” O’Connor did not choose to stay cooped up in his pessimism and the hopelessness of his fate. Instead, he chose to remain active in looking up alternative cures and just maintaining a healthy lifestyle. As a result, his positive attitude in looking forward to the future really inspires me as I feel like I would not be able to maintain hope in face of all the negative odds. My father recently passed away this June from kidney cancer- the doctors had told him that he only had six months to live but he survived for an entire year. Although he did not survive his prognosis for as long of a period as James O’Connor, I believe that it was through a lot of outside research and different therapies that definitely prolonged his life. Therefore, if I were given a dire cancer prognosis, I would start researching my disease and consulting non-traditional ways of treating it, especially if traditional types of treatment offered no hope.

First, upon hearing my prognosis, I would research my disease. Hopefully, this would branch off into other forms of research that would allow me to learn about the treatments that I would possibly be given in the future. Doctors usually outline the general details of the disease but I would like to go into the specifics so I could hopefully understand my disease almost as well as the doctors. In this way, I would be able to understand the doctor’s treatments for me and in a way, diagnose myself.

In addition, I would try to branch out from the traditional kinds of treatment to alternative types of medicine that Western doctors may not be aware about. As my father grew into a worse condition due to his cancer even after several radiation and chemotherapy treatments, he tried to have hope in treatment from other countries. My family friends brought many different kinds of medicines and different success stories with each one. Some of these treatments were just simple herbal teas and others were medicines endorsed by doctors from different countries. At this stage in his illness, my family and I were willing to really try anything that could help; therefore, we went through a combination of Western and Eastern medicine for a while. They may not have had any real effect on my father’s cancer; however, they gave him hope that he was doing something to prevent cancer from winning the fight.

I believe that at a certain stage of cancer, it no longer can be treated by any medicine and what is needed is something short of a miracle. Therefore, I would try to enhance the placebo effect as much as possible. Although, it is not very reliable, it has been credited with improving severe conditions in chronically ill patients who were given real hope that they would be able to survive their illnesses. The placebo effect has been mostly been tested for minor medications and treatments, however, its effects are astounding. For example, in one study, researchers found that acupuncture can cure migraines and headaches, even when the needles are inserted at the wrong points, resulting in a placebo effect that had real results in curing a condition. The mind is a powerful tool and with proper application, its efficacy could be possibly expanded by a far reach of hope to alleviating the effects of cancer.

Near the end of my father’s life, he grew increasingly despondent as he became bedridden and confined to his hospital room. Before his illness, he was such a vibrant and ambitious person who was full of life. Therefore, for all of his friends and family, it was painful to watch him lapse into a depressed invalid who was constantly in pain without his medication and who could not even move without the help of myself or my mother. His condition worsened every day despite the new medications that were constantly being prescribed to him and sometimes, I wonder if he would have been able to stay alive longer if he had just adhered to the same hope that Rhio had.

Mesothelioma, which is caused by exposure to asbestos and particularly affects the lungs, must have been extremely painful as it affects the most basic function of life- breathing. Therefore, Rhio must have had to maintain a lot of hope to continue to go on with his life each day. Cancer, in combination with serious radiation therapy, is so extremely painful and I believe that it is so hard to have courage in the face of even more pain, especially if you do not know if the treatment will even alleviate your condition. Nevertheless, Rhio was able to remain positive and enjoy life while he could instead of preoccupying his mind with thoughts of death. I believe that this is extremely courageous and noble to be scared, yet not to obsess yourself with it, for the sake of yourself and your family and friends. Therefore, I think that all people who go through some form of serious illness really are heroes, doctors, and survivors in their own right.

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