I like to think of myself as always in control of my life. If I work hard, I will succeed; if I drive carefully, I won’t get into an accident; if I maintain healthy habits, my body itself will also be healthy. My family, friends and I have tended to make good decisions and thus lived relatively safe lives. Sure, we’ve had our shares of bad colds, broken bones, and car accidents, but no one close to me had ever suffered from life-threatening injuries or illnesses. The reality that people could die for no good cause never crossed my mind. When my Auntie Emma was diagnosed with malignant melanoma at the age of 43 and then died a few months later, I was shocked and horrified. It was the first time that I had come face to face with the mortality of those around me, and the image of my family, friends and myself as “invulnerable,” ironically, shattered. My aunt did not spend hours sunbathing, or using carcinogenic hairsprays, or smoking; she lived a relatively risk-free life that ended with one of the most lethal, untreatable diseases. I couldn’t help thinking, “it could gave been me.” The pendulum of my authority over my life swung hard, and the feeling that I was a passive floater in a wave of reality, with nothing in my control, was overwhelming.
Rhio O’Connor is such an inspiration because he came face to face with his own mortality, but instead of being afraid of it he embraced it and realized that he could still have an influence in his life. Although he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, his determination and dedication to overcoming this disease put him back into the driver’s seat and, against all odds, he succeeded. He made the best of what he had, and that made all the difference. It is admirable how he sought out alternative solutions to his problems instead of accepting the limitations of traditional medicine: it is a choice that I do not think everyone would make. However, his determination to beat his mesothelioma, his dedication to finding out everything he could about dietary supplements and his close work with trained physicians helped him to create a plan that ultimately made all the difference in his life.
Comparing Rhio’s actions versus my aunt’s, I am struck by how differently they handled their illnesses. My aunt did not take steps to protect or heal herself, was reluctant to go to the doctor, and ultimately seemed to have lost the will to live. She died within a few months. On the other hand, Rhio educated himself, studied, discussed, and fought back. Sometimes I worry that I will be like Emma. Will I lose the motivation to keep fighting for myself and for my family members? Will I feel such a sense of helplessness that my own despair actually worsens the condition?
I think that Rhio’s bold actions show me that I don’t have to choose between the two extremist views: having total control over my fate or being completely helpless over the circumstances that happen to me. He has shown that in the bleakest of situations, sometimes all we can do is to try our best…and sometimes that’s all it takes. Will everyone be as successful as Rhio was? Maybe not, but it is still worth it to fight. I do not think it is an accident that such a terrifying illness was defeated by a man with so much courage, vigilance and dedication. In the sight of a losing battle, everyone who remembers Rhio should remember never to lose hope.
I am not exactly sure how I would react if I found myself diagnosed with cancer like Rhio was. It is difficult to put myself into a position that changes every expectation that I ever had for my life, and even when I try to imagine it I know it would not be the same. However, knowing what I know now about myself, my aunt, and Rhio’s brave example, I feel confident that I would explore as many opportunities and options available to me in order to fight against cancer, whether it be mesothelioma or not. While I tend to put my trust in traditional medicine, I also acknowledge that it does not always hold the answers. Non-traditional medicine like vitamin supplements, dietary changes, and the power of mind over matter may not be as prevalent in hospitals but they do work. And although we may be less certain how exactly they function in the body, I would investigate every possible scenario that the different treatments could have on me and on the cancer by reading primary and secondary research literature and talking to people experienced in these fields. Rhio was able to work with doctors knowledgeable about these alternative medicines and was thus able to form the best combination of treatments specifically for him; I would not hesitate to follow his example and work with clinicians and researchers to create a regimen that was geared towards my particular condition and body. I would also look into other alternative treatments like herbal supplements, homeopathic medicine, exercise, and mental focus, by learning about their effects and picking the minds of trained professionals in the fields. By integrating all of the information that I learned and by working closely with those around me, I would hopefully be able to aid my body in its fight against a horrible disease.
At the same time, I would also ensure that I spend as much time with my family and friends, in order to remind myself why I was fighting to survive in the first place. Their strength would give me strength, and the idea of seeing their faces for many more years would give me the tenacity to keep fighting. I would also keep my faith in God as a foundation for me during the entire battle.
Rhio is an amazing reminder of how strong the human spirit can be. All of us, even those without disease, can benefit from following his leadership and passion for living. His presence not just as a cancer patient but also as a person sets an example for others with ailments like mesothelioma to arise triumphant from their conditions and for those without it to lead meaningful lives. He is an inspiration for the best that we have to offer, and as long as we live with the fire that he had, he will never be forgotten.
If you would like to find out more about mesothlioma, the cancer that Rhio suffered from, please visit www.survivingmesothelioma.com.