One of mankind’s most powerful and universal qualities is the desire to live. Our very nature cries out to exist, survive, and often thrive in this complex reality weʼve found ourselves in. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to lead lives free from natural disasters, bloody war-zones, or oppressive regimes, we too often take our existence lightly or for granted until we are actually faced with death. And itʼs with this thought closest in mind when I try to imagine what I would do if diagnosed with a deadly cancer like mesothelioma. A deadly cancer that was in fact a reality for a man named Rhio OʼConnor less than a decade ago. But this man proved himself to be much more than the average man, as he would face this diagnosis with the ultimate fighting spirit. After reading the remarkable story of Rhio OʼConnor battling mesothelioma and outliving his diagnosis by several years, I began to think hard about my perspective on daily life and what I would have done in his situation. It didnʼt take much time for me to realize that in my lifetime Iʼve often been too complacent and equally ungrateful for the days Iʼve been given on earth. And I see these realizations as positive to accept, because many people donʼt get to realize how blessed they are until faced with life threatening illnesses such as mesothelioma. Most people canʼt imagine what it would feel like to be given an expiration date on their existence, but when Rhio was faced with this nightmare, he didnʼt respond to it by simply accepting the outcome. What he did was to question this nightmare, by refusing to accept defeat, and instead push back at it from the heart. Not only was he adamant to survive, but his brave efforts resulted in the building of something valuable to all future human beings who would also face the same unthinkable challenges. And these challenges he was successful in facing donʼt only impact the individuals diagnosed with cancer, but also their families, friends, spouses, and future generations.
Rhio not only had a proactive attitude towards his survival, but he showed his concern for others by fighting for the survival of future generations. I believe that his caring for others in the midst of a life threatening illness displayed the true meaning of compassion and it will no doubt inspire many to follow his lead as well. And like the key characteristics in every heroʼs story, Rhio encompassed the leadership and resolution to face an impossible challenge while literally altering history on his own. But overall, Rhioʼs passion is what touch me the most and I also found it inspiring to remember that against all odds, we all are capable of making an enormous difference on this earth. Itʼs moving, yet encouraging stories like his that reach normal people like me, and remind us to reevaluate our own daily attitudes in life. We are often too caught up in our own personal affairs to think about what we could be doing to help others in need, many who donʼt have the luxury of health, wealth, or basic resources.
The future is always uncertain, but when we think of true stories like Rhioʼs battle against mesothelioma, we realize how important it is to cease every opportunity to create positive change, because life wonʼt wait for us. And while accepting that it cannot wait, I again ponder on the horrific thought of what I would do if diagnosed with mesothelioma and given only a short time to live. As much as I would love to believe that I would be as brave as Rhio in that situation, I feel that fear would initially take over my soul. Fear is natural and uncertainty is perhaps the only thing certain in life, so Rhio was no doubt faced with fear and doubt when hearing of his diagnosis. What he did next, however, is what I would hope to do if faced with cancer, and that is to never give up hope at a different future. Rhio took it upon himself to independently research his diagnosis, he talked to countless professionals, and was determined to find an alternate way of surviving the time he was given. He also paved the way for others to have hope and he proved that having hope is truly essential in changing our future in positive ways. So when I now imagine being faced with mesothelioma, I would want to fight against all of the data telling me that my days are numbered and equally fight for the good of my fellow human beings. Life is difficult to define and impossible to put a price tag on, but one thing is for certain, that we all value life in our own personal way.
Regardless of our beliefs, opinions, cultures, or backgrounds, we find ourselves facing the same common enemy in life; death. Countless come into this world and several pass out of it, but in our given time on earth we all make changes, intentionally or naturally. And the changes that Rhio intentionally made during his time here will positively effect mankind forever. His story is not only a legacy, but a testament to what we are capable of doing in our own lives. Rhio OʼConnor will live in our hearts forever with his triumphant story and he accomplished more for mankind while being faced with death than most people do when faced with life.