“How Cancer Brought Me Back to Life”
I was lying in a hospital bed, awaiting test results to finally get down to the reasoning behind my unexplained illness. My family waited with me, trying not to make the conclusion that it was bad news I would be receiving. I held my breath as the doctor entered the room and uttered those words that people only have nightmares about hearing; “You have cancer.” “Pleural mesothelioma,” the doctor continued, “the most common type of mesothelioma that works by affecting the mesothelial cells lining the pleura, a membrane that covers the lungs and lines the chest cavity. Nodules have formed on the pleural surface of your lungs, causing a tumor to form, this is very rare in women, especially a woman your age.” I wondered aloud about how this could happen to me, where could this disease come from? The doctor informed me that exposure to asbestos could be to blame and it suddenly hit me; I had been exposed to asbestos while working with my husband to remodel the old house we had bought but had thought nothing of it at the time. We had always used extreme caution to limit our exposure to the asbestos we knew riddled the house and a few years had passed since we had finished the project. I would never have guessed that my chest pains could ever have been something so serious and caused by something I hadn’t really thought twice about.
My world seemed to close in on me as the doctor continued to inform me that my cancerous tumor was inoperable, and I likely had barely a year left to live. Hearing these words, I began to sink into my hopelessness and immediately surrender to my fate. My life is over, I thought. There were so many things I wanted to do and now they would all just be piled into the “should have done while I had the chance” category. I would not be able to have kids or go skydiving or finally buy that restored 1959 Cadillac Eldorado I had been saving up for. My “Book of Possibilities” would have to be changed to my “Book of IMpossibilities.” If only I had not taken life for granted and actually lived life to the fullest I would not be filled with so many regrets right now. I was only thirty, this just did not seem fair. As I was being consumed by my feelings of self-pity, I became aware of the voices of my family all voicing similar complaints and concerns. “There has to be something else she can do,” my husband said. “There’s no way she only has a year left,” my sister joined in. At that moment, I snapped back to reality and stared at the faces of my loved ones. There is no way I can just give into this diagnosis and give up. I have too many people who love me, too many people who I cannot bear to leave, not yet. There must be another way to fight this thing.
After being released from the hospital, the first thing my family did was divide and conquer. If I wanted to outlive this thing and spend more time with them, we would have to find some alternative ways to fight the pleural mesothelioma. My parents knew some of the doctors around so they began by calling them to see if there were any other doctors they could recommend that treated this type of cancer. My husband researched some medical articles at the library while I stayed home and got cozy with the internet. Googling “pleural mesothelioma” came up with 377 thousand hits. I found some empty sites and some promising ones but eventually stumbled upon www.survivingmesothelioma.com . The website spoke of several different types of mesothelioma, and the people who outlived their prognoses. There was one case in particular that I felt was similar to mine. A man named James “Rhio” O’Connor had also had an inoperable tumor and been given a year to live. He rejected the doctor’s prediction and began researching ways to prolong his life, much like I was trying to do. By conducting his own research and learning as much as he could about the disease and the different types of treatment, “Rhio” extended his life by over six years beyond what his original doctor had said! Reading this restored my hope and I continued my internet search for some of the methods Mr. O’Connor had used.
The treatment I chose followed a number of different methods I had found online and in speaking with specialized physicians. Since surgery was not an option and chemotherapy would not do a whole lot of good in my case, I searched for alternative treatments. I did some clinical trials with certain types of treatment that mostly helped my symptoms. Immunotherapy and gene therapy were experimental at the beginning of my fight but I was desperate to try anything that might work. Taking many nutritional supplements and following a healthy, more organic diet also seemed to increase my ability to outlive the doctor’s prognosis.
It’s been 10 years since my diagnosis and I am still grateful for stumbling upon James “Rhio” O’Connor’s story because it restored my faith in the power of love and in a greater power. I became closer with my family, church and community throughout this process as they became my pillars of support. While this disease will ultimately be the thing that kills me, in a way it has brought me back to life. I stopped taking everything for granted and I realized just how amazing life could be. I began taking chances whereas I was cautious before and began loving more than I ever thought I was capable of. In sharing my story, I am hoping someone else will have the same experience as me and realize that there are many more options than originally come to mind and that you can be in control of your cancer and not the other way around.