We Are Going To Live
What does one do when he or she becomes sick? That’s quite an easy question to answer – I’m sure we would all agree. Even eager-to-learn 3 and 4 year olds in a preschool classroom would assuredly raise their hands and shout out “Take medicine! Take medicine!” I would probably have to agree with their answer, but I would not fall victim to the idea that medicine is primarily a drug, formed by billion dollar pharmaceutical companies, and distributed via pharmacists’ in ugly little orange bottles that tend to clutter our bathroom cabinets, kitchen islands, and bedside tables.
While that may indeed be one form of medicine, I would urge readers to consider, as James O’Connor did, that a drug is but one small form of medicine available to humankind today. Unfortunately, it is all too often that this type of medicine is the medicine we run to the minute we feel a fever coming on, we feel stressed, or we are diagnosed with an unfathomable life-threatening disease. James did not do this. He sought out other forms of medicine, arguably much stronger, and taught his own doctor a thing or two. This leaves me wondering if I could be as strong as Mr. O’Connor. What if I found out tomorrow, that I would likely live for only another year? James was diagnosed with the terminal cancer, mesothelioma. This unforgiving form of cancer has, so far, only been linked to asbestos exposure, and treatments include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and other scientific treatments that continue to be researched even today. But as James points out in his remarkable book, They said months, I choose years, these types of treatments, although they may gain the patient some additional time with family and friends, may allow one to do so only with pain, suffering, and an overall lesser quality of life. This can’t be the only option can it? James was told to take his wife on a cruise, relax, and then return home and schedule hospice visits… as he likely had a year left to live, and no more. This was simply unacceptable.
The word medicine, it should be noted, originates from the Latin word ars medicina, which simply means “the art of healing.” There is no requirement of orange bottles, RX papers with illegible signatures, or oversized equipment used for pumping one’s body full of chemicals or radiation. While many doctors today may jump at the opportunity to scratch out a new prescription, most will agree that happiness, laughter, exercise, diet, mental health, and love are all very strong forms of medicine that need no prescription and no doctoral signature (however an abundance of refills would likely be welcomed).
So in the determined, kind, and very strong-hearted spirit of James O’Conner, I would like to take only a few moments to consider a few “arts of healing” that do not fall within doors of XYZ Pharmaceuticals, and are all too often swept under the rug by various members the of M.D. world.
Suffice to say, there are certainly a fair amount of unconventional options out there that your doctor may or may not mention to you. As human beings, we are responsible for our own health and well-being; it is ultimately up to us to do what we can to preserve that well-being. From the patients suffering from multiple sclerosis who have found relief in bee stings, to the common cold sufferer who brews a tea from the Echinacea flower to reduce suffering and healing time, we must preserve our own well-being. Even those suffering with HIV and AIDS have found and alternate refuge: longer and healthier lives through meditation. One Buddhist priest claims that because cancer grows from both a physical and mental cause, practicing techniques that make your mind healthy will encourage your body to be as healthy as it can be, even if you body isn’t able to be at 100%. Most doctors will agree when a “sure-fire medical” cure for cancer IS found, not only will that cure alone affect the healing rate, but it will be a combination of this find in conjunction with the optimistic mentality of the patient. James O’Connor would have likely agreed that the reason some cancer patients do not survive past their prognosis is because they do not believe they will.
I applaud James’ determination in living. The first step for all of us, the minor flu sufferer or the cancer patient, is to realize that while we may have to live with this problem (for however long), we still live. It is interesting to consider how science is always “catching up” to nature. Native Americans used herbology, spiritualism, meditation, and emotion for centuries before European “medicine” entered their lands. (It might be interesting to add here that with that medicine came more disease than the natives had ever known.) The point, however, is that as a society, we tend to feel “all is lost” when our pillbox turns empty. But all is not lost. In fact, most is not lost. Before scientifically generated cures existed, natural cures were the forefront of the healing world. They have since been moved to the backseat. But they are certainly still in the car. Today’s medical students can choose from a variety of specializations. While the most common is still the M.D., we have seen D.V.M., D.D.M., and D.O. Now, those students who wish to practice alternative natural treatments may elect to study such medicine and obtain their N.D., Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine. These professionals will be additionally educated in non-Western medicines. Just because your family doctor or specialist says, “this is the way it is,” that doesn’t mean it is the way it will be.
An inspirational idea that I remember reading of James’, was his observation that while scientific treatments of his mesothelioma may indeed allow him another year or two, his quality of life would be jeopardized. Faced with a life threatening diagnosis (which I am thankful I have never been faced with), I could only hope that I would be able to balance the value of the best years – absent of modern science, with a few decent years – filled with horrible, painstaking treatments. James was able to do exactly this.
Regardless of whether one has mesothelioma, another form of deadly cancer, HIV, or any terminal illness, the focus must remain on your life, not your death. A dear friend of mine was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. Like James, we have done our best to seek out every answer, in every corner, of every institute, through every scholarly journal, written by every specialist, and yet – his illness still exists… but so does he and so do I right next to him.
To anyone who suffers from the fear that his or her cancer, or any other disease, will take your life, I cannot begin to understand your position first hand. But I encourage you to follow in the steps of James “Rhio” O’Connor. I encourage you to seek out those doctors who believe that the quality of one’s life can indeed prolong it or even cure one’s disease. I encourage you to sit with your Pastor, Preacher, Rabbi, or Reverend and explore spiritual healing and not just physical treatment. I encourage you to know everything known to humankind about your situation, as it is very much your situation and you will value your place in it most. I encourage you to have an open mind and an open heart, the same hope exemplified in James O’Connor. Hope cannot exist in a closed mind. Who would have thought bee venom could help heal? Who would have thought in 2010 the field of musical therapy would be blossoming into an internationally recognized field of healing? Who would have thought that while meditation certainly doesn’t cure HIV, those who practice it are more successful in fighting it? Who would have thought that against all odds, James O’Connor and his wife would spend OVER SIX TIMES as long as his doctor informed him they would have together.
When my best friend told me that he was diagnosed with HIV, I was crushed and scared. He sat in the passenger seat of the parked car, and as his chin trembled, I could see him struggling to find the words to tell me something very difficult. I sat in the driver’s seat, staring at the floorboard as he finally found the words. I began to cry. Struck with silence I grabbed him and hugged him as tightly as I could, refusing to let go. We sat in silence… and sadness… and fear. Then he looked at me. He said, “Ryan, I am going to die.”
I answered him, “So am I. But we’re going to live first.”