Coffin, Alexandra – Surviving Mesothelioma

Coffin, Alexandra

Across the population, a cancer diagnosis is viewed by many as a death sentence. A cancer considered incurable, nonetheless, will certainly arouse a sensation of impending doom, with foresight of suffering and pain. Mesothelioma is one such type of cancer, affecting over 2,000 people each year, and yet, I bring forth words of inspiration and embracing life, not sorrows of misery and death. Rhio O’Connor was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2001, and faced a meager one year life expectancy. Instead of accepting his death sentence with grief, however, Rhio embarked on a remarkable journey of discovery, self-assurance, and miraculously outliving his prognosis by five years. His efforts required courage that is found only in the greatest depths of one’s soul, which I find unbelievably inspiring. Admittedly, his inspirational legacy is held in high regard when juxtaposed to many others’ reactions to such a looming diagnosis. It is hard to say whether I would even have the will to respond with such strength, but I do know that his story has given me hope that anything is possible.

As a nursing student I witness human illness and suffering in all facets. I stand in the unique position of empathizing with patients who are ill, and understanding their experience on both a psychosocial and scientific level. My holistic perspective forces me to focus on the palliation of symptoms, and optimizing functionality under the present circumstances. For this reason, I don’t suspect that I would have surmounted the courage to question like Rhio did; question the given medical advice, question my life expectancy, question my treatment options, my providers in general. Learning of Rhio O’Connor’s true resiliency, however, has modified my perspective somewhat. Inspiring hope and proving that all is possible, his story has given me a brightened outlook.

Although it is true that prior to hearing of Rhio O’Connor’s story, I believe I would have shriveled in cowardice in the face of a terminal cancer diagnosis, I now feel enlightened by what I have learned about the power of human passion and drive. This enlightenment would not only assist me in facing a grim diagnosis, but it will forever guide me throughout my career in patient care. While I remain focused on palliation of suffering and therapeutic comfort regimens, I now know to maintain hope with my patients instead of watching them to surrender their will to live. When their hope has been relinquished to physicians and shortened life expectancies, I can share Rhio’s successes and provide a sliver of optimism. Rhio O’Connor found a purpose in those last years of life, a purpose that helped him endure and outlast. Hopefully I can use this to instill a sense of self assurance in my patients and confirm that as a patient, an individual has control over their own life and wellbeing. By keeping one’s soul fulfilled the body can have miraculous powers to withstand, and this is the message that many cancer patients are not receiving from their providers.

With the knowledge of Rhio O’Connor’s triumphant battle for health, I have reconsidered my own choices in such circumstances. I sincerely understand the importance of pursuing your own path to wellbeing, and I feel that I would utilize all plausible resources to customize a plan of care that would maximize my psychological and physical welfare. As I nurse I understand the ethical magnitude of patients making autonomous decisions. For this reason I know that before making any decisions, I would need to be completely informed on the benefits and drawbacks of each form of treatment available. After thorough research on various models of cancer treatment, seeking out likeminded providers would be the first crucial step. When the team of caregivers is on the same page as the patient, some form of success is imminent. In addition to seeking medical care tailored to my needs, I would strive for self fulfillment and a positive environment. Surrounding myself with family and friends for support, I would righteously manipulate my environment to fit my initiatives, creating a synergism of positive energy to promote life and happiness.

By maintaining optimism and making care decisions that I know are suited to my body and health, I feel that I would be able to flourish in the face of darkness. By turning the dark into light, much like Rhio O’Connor did, I know that I, as well as my patients, can overcome medical obstacles. By transcending medical diagnoses and life expectancies, the mind and soul have the power to prevail, even at odds with “incurable” disease processes. I accept this knowledge as a gift from Rhio O’Connor, for I know that his legacy has truly changed my personal perspective, as well as my nursing practice forever, and will likely save many lives in the future. For that gift of life, society should be eternally grateful. Rest in peace Rhio O’Connor.

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