Derden, Chad – Surviving Mesothelioma

Derden, Chad

This essay began for me as an opportunity to obtain financing for college. In other words, another essay entry among the dozens previously submitted for a chance at a scholarship. I was asked to answer a few apparently simple questions. In short, what would I do if faced with the situation another gentleman had faced in his life. Easy enough right?

In order to answer that question we need certain nuggets of information. Who was this man, and what situation did he face. Well, as the title suggests this man was James “Rhio” O’Connor. In short he was a man the same as any other, flipping through the pages of the book he called life the same as the rest of us. Then came what most of us would have considered our “Final Chapter”. This chapter was titled “Mesothelioma” in the case of Mr. O’Connor.

Mesothelioma, for those of you like me who have not previously encountered the term, is a particularly nasty form of cancer. It is linked to asbestos exposure in almost every case and is found in the lungs. There is another similarity between all cases of mesothelioma; the prognosis. You see, mesothelioma is an incurable form of cancer. The resulting prognosis is almost always a statement which includes the phrase “left to live”. In Mr. O’Connor’s case the prognosis was a year.

As I stated above Mesothelioma would have been the final chapter for most of us. Mr. O’Connor decided not to see things this way. His doctors advised him to get his affairs in order, and perhaps take that vacation that he and his wife had always wanted. Seems reasonable enough, right? Enjoy the time you have remaining on this level of existence with your family, see to it they are prepared and taken care of, and then get right with whichever God you believe in. A prognosis any doctor would recommend given the situation. Years of education and research have told them that as a species, we do not have the power to fight off this dreaded foe, much less beat it.

However there are often certain things that doctors might overlook when giving their prognosis. Doctors are men of science, and naturally they often put their faith in things such as research and education; things with limitations. If countless years and dollars spent have not yet revealed the answers necessary for victory why should this man’s situation be any different? Who are they to give false hope? Perhaps if they had known Mr. O’Connor a little better, they might have reconsidered.

Mr. O’Connor, it seems, chose not to place his faith in such limited beliefs and theories. He decided to draw on his own infinite well of human spirit, and survival instinct. These traits proved to be considerably more effective in dealing with his new found future. Driven by the determination to extend his time here on earth, he began to perform his own research. Mr. O’Connor understood that to solve any problem, or beat any foe, that knowledge is often key. This knowledge was acquired through countless hours in libraries and talking with experts in the field. He studied the therapies that were offered for his condition, numerous as they were. He also spoke with patients that had tried the various therapies and medications available.

Through his research he began to understand the cancer that was plaguing him, and the benefits of the various therapies available. This allowed him to devise his own regimen of medication, supplements and clinicians to help him along his path. His investments of time and energy were proven to be well spent. Although only given a year to live, Rhio was able to stretch out his remaining years seven times that long. If his time and efforts are considered an investment then his return was 700 percent.

So now I must answer the questions asked of me. What steps would I take given the same prognosis? What research would I perform and what resources would I use to prolong my life as long as possible? After reading this inspiring tale the answer seems to be self-evident. I now know that taking the time and effort to understand the cancer and available treatments would likely help me extend my life. I now know that a human body is able to live with an “incurable” disease. If a doctor told me that with a little effort and time I could increase my time with my family by 700 percent, then there really would be no choice. No questions but one; where do I begin?

To answer these questions in this way however, would be untruthful. Rhio was never told that his efforts would pay off so handsomely. He was not aware of a similar inspirational tale to start him down his long and winding road. He simply knew that he was not ready to give up on his life and mail in his remaining time. All he knew was what he was told by the experts. The cancer is incurable; you have a year left.

Furthermore I know myself. Do I possess the same determination and will to set out on such a journey? Would it not be easier or perhaps more realistic to take the doctor’s prognosis as fact? After all, how am I supposed to learn more about this cancer in one year than a doctor who has spent studying it the majority of his life? What use would it be spending my few remaining days in a library or hospital rather than with my loved ones?

It is easy to say now that I would have made the effort; taken the time. Yet I believe that cheapens the sacrifices that Rhio, and individuals around the world like him, have made. If the ability to perform such monumental and courageous feats were so easy, these individuals would be the norm rather than the exception.

If I am honest with myself, I believe I would have taken the easier of the two roads. Maybe the term “easier” is unfair, perhaps it is more comfortable. Spend my time with family taking that long-forgotten vacation. Letting them know just how much they mean to me. Is this a choice of the weak? I do not believe so. I just believe that many of us have not heard a tale such as James “Rhio” O’Connor’s. Yet now that I have heard, 7 to 1 may just seem to be a long-shot worth placing a bet on.

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