This was moment that changed the rest of my life…I was sitting in the patient waiting room at the clinic for what seems to be a routine errand of picking up the results of my physical. I waited for the results of the biopsy to get back for the small lump the doctor felt at the base of my neck. I thought “I am a 20-year old college student; I have my entire life ahead of me. I’m healthy, there’s nothing wrong.” Scenarios played out in my head. The doctor solemnly walks in and stops under the doorway to the waiting area. She says, “Coote?.. Brittany?” I quickly collected my things and walked toward her. She looked at me over her glasses. I wished I could have read her mind through her intense gaze. “Follow me,” she said. I followed her into a private room. She sat down in the chair beside me and comfortingly puts her hand on my back. She slowly said, “There’s something abnormal with your biopsy results. The cells in the lump look…malignant, it’s cancer. I think it would be best for you stay longer so we can design a treatment plan.” My mind goes racing, images of myself pop into my head. I am going through chemotherapy and I am slowing becoming frail and my hair is falling out…
I am sure James “Rhio” O’Connor had a similar moment, an instance that changes the rest of your life and your outlook on it. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is a malignant tumor of the mesothelium. The mesothelium is a thin lining on the surface of the body cavity and the organs that are contained in them. Most mesotheliomas begin as a nodule that grows into a tumor that eventually covers the entire organ. It most commonly occurs in the chest cavity and 90% of the time it is caused by exposure to asbestos. The cancer is most common in men who are over 40 and there is a 30-70 year latency period where there are no symptoms. In most cases it is difficult to treat because it is usually caught in the advanced stages and survival beyond two years is unusual (Schiffman). O’Conner was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in October 2001 at the age of 61. Surgery was not possible because of the proximity of the tumor to his spine and chemotherapy would decrease the quality of his life and would not substantially increase his length of life—he was not expected to live more than two years. O’Conner increased his life span by seven and a half years by formulating a regimen of 100 supplements with professional clinicians, changing his diet, and practicing mind-body medicine. His determination and willingness to make difficult decisions sustained him through those seven and half years. O’Conner passed away on July 11, 2009 at the age of 69 (Surviving Mesothelioma).
Rhio O’Conner outlived his diagnosis by six years; he defiantly said “YES”, when his medical doctors said “NO”. There are so many instances in life, where the ones around will easily tell you “no” and you must defy them and say “yes”. O’Conner’s story has allowed me to see that one can create their own reality, instead of accepting someone else’s view of reality. This is a concept that I could apply to any area of life. For example, as I go through my professional career and academic training I will certainly meet people who are more than willing to tear me down and hinder me rather than build me up. If I were given a dire cancer prognosis, my first emotion would be shock, which would turn into anger, then despair and finally acceptance. Since, I am not expert on mesothelioma I would use the Internet to get some preliminary information. Then, I would take stock of all that I had done in my life and spend as much time as possible with loved ones. I would make sure financial matters are cleared up and my family would be secure financially. My primary emotional and spiritual resource would be my faith. It would help in keeping my spirits up and anticipating the hereafter. I would be in regular contact with my church community for spiritual support. If chemotherapy, radiation and surgery had little to offer, I would investigate other forms of treatment such as yoga. Yoga has been found to relieve stress and fatigue, through holding your body in a certain position though stretching, bending and twisting combined with deep breathing (Stress Management). Eastern medicine may deal with the cancer in a different manner than conventional Western medicine and there maybe a form of treatment that was not investigated by Western medicine. Another method of treatment to investigate would be nutritional therapy. I would consult the advice of a nutritionist to assist me with this form of treatment. Adequate nutrition is important in the treatment of cancer. Cancer patients have different nutritional needs than healthy people. Instead of the recommendation of a diet high in fruits, vegetables, high fiber breads and cereals and moderate amounts of meats and dairy products with reduced intake of fat, sugar and salt, recommendations for cancer focus on higher calorie and protein content. The reason behind these dietary changes is to help the body build strength and tolerate cancer treatments. Getting adequate nutrition is easily accomplished if you are a healthy person, but it can be a challenge if you have cancer because chemotherapy can kill normal fast-dividing cells such as the cells of the digestive tract causing mouth sores, nausea, diarrhea and changes in how food tastes (Mesothelioma).
Rhio O’ Connor’s story is inspirational because he took control of his own outcome instead of handing it off to others. He was willing to make difficult decisions and try unconventional treatments to increase the quality and length of his life. I am very sure I will encounter obstacles in life and will have to make difficult decisions and be willing to have a positive outlook when there is an atmosphere of negativity coming from others around me.
“James Rhio O’Conner.” Surviving Mesothelioma. Cancer Monthly, Inc., Web. 9 Feb 2010.
“Nutrition and Mesothelioma.” Mesothelioma. 04/17/2009. Web. 26 Feb 2010.
Schiffman, George. “Mesothelioma.” Medicine.Net. Web. 9 Feb 2010.
“Yoga: Tap into the many health benefits of yoga.” Stress management. 01/16/2010. MayoClinic.com, Web. 26 Feb 2010.
By: Coote, Brittany