Dean, Jenna Elizabeth – Surviving Mesothelioma

Dean, Jenna Elizabeth

What would it feel like to visit a doctor and have some tests done that result in a major change in your life? How would it be to hear that your life could be cut short compared to others without your diagnosis? How would you handle being told that if you chose to have treatment you may still die? I can tell you from experience that it makes your knees buckle, heart pound, hands sweat and tears swell. It makes you realize that you can either sink or swim. It gives you reason to be depressed, but it also gives you a reason to see how much fight and will-power you have. I was not diagnosed with one year to live, but at the age of 16, I was diagnosed with Type 1, insulin dependent diabetes. There is no cure for this disease, and if I don’t give myself insulin, I would die. If I don’t manage by blood sugar or even if I do I could lose a limb, my eyesight, and statistically, my friends without this disease have a 30% chance of living longer. In reality, I have a disease that is killing me in the inside, just like cancer.

I was inspired by James “Rhio” O’Connor because I thought of him being an average American that had worked hard all his life. He was diagnosed with a form of cancer called mesothelioma, which meant he was probably exposed to asbestos somewhere 20 to 50 years earlier. He did not do any improper “behavioral activity” that could have caused this disease. Nor, at that time did he know that he should be wearing a protective white suit when dealing with asbestos. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. While working around asbestos he somehow inhaled or ingested this deadly toxin. The fibers could not be removed from his lungs and caused scarring, inflammation and over time cellular damage resulting in the growth of cancer cells. Without even knowing, the lining of his lungs where being challenged. The symptoms of coughing or shortness of breath could easily be excused as a bad cold or the flu. When it was finally diagnosed, he was hit by a Tsunami. The word cancer was probably said, but what came next must have been horrifying. You have one year to live and chemotherapy and radiation may make you really sick and even worsen your quality of life.

This is the part of the story where he becomes a hero to me. I am asked to write an essay what I would do if faced with the same diagnosis. It made me think of my grandfather, a retired plumber. My Aunt’s dad was also a plumber, but taught at a Vocational School his entire life. During a conversation, my Aunt said her dad came over to fix the plumbing for an old bathroom in a 1910 home and couldn’t figure it out. My grandfather, not exactly Mr. Tact told her, “There are those that do and those that teach.” After the embarrassing moment I knew he was right. So many experts have gone to school to say how the body works or what type of chemotherapy works, or what kind of drug or non-traditional therapy won’t work, but they’re not the ones with the broken pipes. The expert becomes the one with the disease, the one fighting for their life, and the one trying anything to survive.

With that in mind, if I was diagnosed with this type of cancer my first thought would be to search the internet and find out all the information I can on mesothelioma and then find people dealing with it. As my grandfather stated, “There are those that do.” After my search I found a name, James “Rhio” O’Connor. He was given the deadly diagnosis and chose to research other options for survival. He found success in dealing with this type of cancer through diet and nutrition that ultimately increased his life. His willingness to share his experiences written in a book entitled, “They Said Months. I Chose Years! A Mesothelioma Survivors Story” may have given a newly diagnosed person a longer life expectancy. There is also a website, www.survivingmesothelioma.com where I would go to find other people with the diagnosis of mesothelioma. These are the experts that are actually fighting and grasping for hope and when they are willing to share their success, such as Rhio, they become a valuable tool.

The next step would be to find a good doctor. A good doctor is important, but I know from dealing with diabetes, that I need to be the expert and not expect the doctor to give me the answers. I would need to be educated on new pharmaceutical products or non- traditional methods and discuss these with the doctor. I also know that the doctor may not believe in the new approaches, but once again it goes back to the 1910 home with the broken pipes, the doctor is not the one with the problem. I would need to be proactive in looking at options. My discussion with the doctor would center on treatments available to nourish healthy cells in addition to changing my diet and taking supplements!

One treatment I would be interested in knowing about would be the hyperbaric oxygen chamber. These chambers provide 100% oxygen carried by blood, instead of the normal 20%, thus delivering more oxygen to organs and tissues. The experts of these chambers feel that they are beneficial to activate white blood cells, nourish tissues and organs and are used for a number of medical conditions. Additionally, I would then think outside the box and how I could kill the cancer forming cells, or decrease their ability to spread without destroying my healthy cells. What would work like chemotherapy, but not attack my healthy cells? This research directed me to the venom from snakes and spiders. I was surprised to learn that some pharmaceuticals already use the venom and some experts feel this deadly venom could be a cure for many diseases including cancer. The venom works by targeting the damaged cells while leaving the healthy cells alone.

Along with all of this I would stay physically active and analyze non-traditional treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, and schedule an appointment with a chiropractor. A chiropractor believes in the relationship of how the structure and condition of the body affects the mind. When these two are in harmony, mind-body, a person feels good and the healing process can occur. I would not expect a cure from these methods, but these non-traditional treatments could help me feel good and help me remain positive. I know that being positive is so important, and it’s also important for the ones around to also remain positive. Sometimes you can’t stop the despair and pity that will flare its ugly head. There are many days I want to tell my friends, “And you think you have a problem!” To fight you need a cane; the cane is not made of wood, but it is people that you can lean on and depend on to shake you back into reality.

James “Rhio” O’Connor devoted himself to being that cane to others by giving them hope for not one year but seven. He didn’t settle or accept the current thought of treatment; he didn’t throw in the towel and give up. What he did was rolled up his sleeves, dug in his heels and took on that 1910 bathroom. He is a hero, a fighter and to me a doer.

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