The Man Who Survived

The Man Who Survived

Slowly, the man in a suit walks aimlessly on a small hospital lobby, shaken of what he just learned. He found himself in the emergency bay a few minutes later when suddenly; the emergency doors swung open and let in a group of paramedics wheeling in a person. He stepped to the side and caught a glimpse of the poor fellow being rushed in. He was pale, wide-eyed, and motionless. “I guess death comes to all”, he muttered to himself. “It seems like I would see you in a year, friend”…

Such a circumstance is no stranger to people facing cancer. For the man in the suit, a grave prognosis can be difficult to imagine, much less knowing how to spend it. Certainly, most people would succumb to grief while some would chase their lifelong pleasures. Only a few would be brave enough to do some miracles.

The latter would describe the life of a man named James Rhio O’Connor, a survivor of a cancer called mesothelioma. At 60 years old, he was told he had cancer and was given less than a year to live. His prognosis is so grave that the doctors said he was better off enjoying his days with his wife and put matters in order. Refusing to give in, he went on to find answers as to why modern medicine would simply give up on him. In his search he was able to put together a miracle that doctors would not likely have imagined.

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that develops in the protective lining of the internal organs called mesothelium. What makes this cancer different is that it has a long latency period of about 20 to 50 years from exposure to asbestos until it manifests itself, by then the damage is already done. The time left to mount an effective treatment can be so short that an ordinary person would just submit to the inevitable. Mesothelioma, like any other type of cancer, can develop in different ways. In James’ unique case, his cancer grew too close to his spine that surgery is not an option. Chemotherapy, he also realized, would severely affect his physical health and possibly reduce his capacity to fight on. Despite being a novice in medicine he educated himself on his condition and the common treatments for the disease. Be that as it may, he found ways of combining the benefits of existing procedures and circumventing their side effects with his personal research. Over time and with assistance from medical professionals, he was able to develop a regimen that delayed the progress of his condition. He even further improved his chances of survival by treating both the mind as well as the body, something a purely scientific perspective may not fully accept. But the effect was so apparent that it extended his life to a ripe old age of 69.

It occurred to me what it would be like to be diagnosed with mesothelioma. The thought may be unbearable but I would begin by going to the foremost cancer specialists to inquire about a new medical treatment called Immunotherapy. This was deemed controversial based on previous clinical studies where the immune system is boosted artificially using vaccines which yielded high blood toxicity. It was halted and set aside until further clinical studies using antiviral drugs (interferon alpha) showed signs of hope. It recently had a breakthrough in reducing this type of tumor cells by over 50% with minimal side effects. This is the sort of things James would be willing to go for, a little light that can shine in the dark. And in the spirit of James’ unrelenting pursuit for a cure – this would be the place for me to start.

It is also important to note that James harnessed not only the creative ability of the mind but also its healing properties. Part of his research was focused on the intangible regenerative properties of the mind to what is now called Psychoneuroimmunology, a process of treatment where one uses positive psychological and spiritual state of mind to influence the health of the physical body. While James probably could have conjured up courage to stay positive out of sheer will my source of courage to move on would be from my friends and family. My courage will fuel their hopes of me living a full and fruitful life and their hopes with will give me courage to keep going. The supplemental care I would get from this treatment should provide a better edge against the cancer.

I do not know what the outcome will be, but if I am to face death I would rather have it my own terms; which is to use the remainder of my life learning for those who are and will also go through the same experience. People may learn from what was done differently. Such is the message of James’ life for me and it would be a good thing to pass it on. My story, although eclipsed by that of James, will be as good as any survivor can be.

Knowing how to end can be a gift if one decides to use it in the most meaningful way. James’ actions show what one man can do within a short amount of time under such adversity. Regardless of his reasons, his story will endure and would serve as a reminder to others that they can do the same. It is by no means a small feat but it is a testament that anything is possible when one truly wants to make a difference. Walking in his steps, given the same circumstance, would yield another story of courage. The outcome of my experience will then add to his story, a complement to what he has done, so that others would do the same until enough stories come together in hopes that one day a certain brilliant mind comes up with a cure. The choice of fighting on and of moving ahead with a sincere heart as James did is a choice that would give cancer survivors with hope that dying with mesothelioma in no longer an option but a distant memory. And as another story goes…

…the man watches the frantic group run towards the emergency room; as soon as the doors shut he turned and started walking toward the exit doors. He muttered again, “death comes to all”. Each step draws in another breath of uncertainty, but the man keeps walking. His mind is as blank as a white canvas, unknowing, yearning, and ready for whatever choices the man will come to believe…

What the man will do from here I leave it up to you. So tell me friend, if this is you, what will your story be?

By: Domingo, Voltaire

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