Cancer. Few words possess more power, more strength, or more influence. It’s known that cancer is a very serious disease, yet, despite what many people think, it’s not always incurable. Many people who have been diagnosed with cancer have survived, though there are those who haven’t been as fortunate. Despite all of their efforts, many die from the disease – as was the case of James “Rhio” O’Connor. Even with medical advances made in recent years, cancer still manages to claim the lives of thousands every year. Cancerous cells can manifest in all areas of the body, causing different forms of the disease including ovarian, breast and pharyngeal cancer(s), leukemia, glimoa, and, in O’Connor’s case, mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer, characterized by the formation of malignant cells within protective linings of the abdomen and organs. Although various factors can be attributed to its development, frequent exposure to asbestos particles plays a crucial role in the formation of mesothelioma. Evidence has been found that even contact with another individual who has been exposed to asbestos puts one at greater risk for developing the disease.
There are many treatment options available for mesothelioma patients, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment. There are also many non-traditional treatment options that have proven to be successful in combating the disease. O’Connor is an example of someone who thoroughly explored non-traditional therapies and was able to find the best regiment for his situation through extensive research, surviving six years past his initial prognosis.
O’Connor’s tale of survival is extremely inspiring and upon hearing his story I began to ponder how I would react if faced with a similar situation. I came to a simple conclusion – if given a dire cancer prognosis, I would waste no time beginning the fiercest battle of my life. I’d start by researching cancer treatments and consulting with as many doctors as possible. In addition, I’d become more active within my community, strengthen my social networks, and attempt to continue my education, all while maintaining the belief I was going to survive.
With recent medical advancements, many treatment options have become available to cancer patients; however, some are still only available through clinical trials, like gene therapy. Gene therapy is a procedure that has been making medical headlines with its success in treating various diseases. It involves introducing genetic material into cells in order to combat unhealthy cells in different ways, such as affecting cellular replication, inducing apoptosis ( programmed cell death), or interrupting specific gene receptors. There are also supplemented food diets that have been found to be beneficial in fighting cancer. As stated on the website Surviving Mesothelioma: A Patient’s Guide, “Working with professional clinicians, he [O’Connor] formulated a regimen of over 100 supplements a day, changed his diet, practiced mind-body medicine, and relied on his own discipline to see him through the difficult times ahead.1” As he survived many years past his initial prognosis, it’s clear that O’Connor had very successful results with his treatment choices.
Despite the alternative cancer therapies available, I realize that traditional forms of therapy are the norm for a reason – they’ve been tried and tested many times, often with encouraging results. Thus, before I made any final decisions on a treatment path to pursue, I’d consult with as many doctors and clinicians as possible. Cancer can affect the human body in so many ways, and every doctor has different ideas of what are the best treatments. Therefore, complementing my personal research, I’d talk to many doctors and thoroughly explore as many options as possible, as well as their long term effects. Upon exhausting all resources available, I’d choose my treatments in an informed and logical manner.
After coming to an educated decision on the type of therapies I would employ, I’d become more socially active by continuing to volunteer at local organizations, raising cancer awareness, and attempting to bridge the gap between medical patients and their health providers. In an effort to assist those who did not have much family or familiarity with the disease, I’d become an advocate for other cancer patients, teaching them about the treatment options I had come across, the lasting effects of certain therapies or drugs, and attempting to clear any confusion they might have regarding their situation. Being tied to my community and helping other people would make a positive impact on the lives of others, providing me with a stronger sense of personal worth. I’d be providing emotional support to others in addition to strengthening my own social networks.
Regardless of how effective my chosen forms of therapy would be, I know that without the support of my family and friends, I would lose my battle with cancer. Simply knowing that there were people who cared and were willing me to survive would be a therapy unto its own.
My parents have a friend who owns a bed and breakfast near their home. An active woman, Bonnie can be found almost every morning tending the flowers in front of her inn. Unfortunately, at the age of seventy she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The weeks following her prognosis were exceedingly challenging as she began chemotherapy. I found myself helping my parents attempt to make life easier for her by preparing meals and delivering them to her home.
As the cancer progressed, Bonnie began to feel worse. I found myself driving past her inn every morning on my way to school and seeing if she was outside with her flowers. They soon became a reflection of how she was faring with the disease; the mornings she was not outside, I knew she was feeling poorly, and every day that I did see her, I was comforted with the knowledge she was feeling decently. Eventually, a time came that she was not outside for two days. Four days. A week. Two weeks. I asked my parents what had happened, but they didn’t know. We were all expecting the worst.
Two and a half weeks later, I arrived home from school to find my father in the kitchen, wrapping a plate of rice and chicken in foil. I learned the news: Bonnie had had a mastectomy and had finally returned to her inn. Despite her age, she recovered from the surgery wonderfully. Several years later she is a little slower and a little more forgetful, but manages to tend her flowers nearly every day. She is a survivor, and still remains very grateful for my parents’ assistance and support.
Thanks to Bonnie, I learned the value of having strong social connections. Keeping her story in mind, I’d expand and solidify my social networks by strengthening relationships with family and friends. I’d attempt to reconnect with people from my past: grade school friends, coworkers, high school friends, classmates. Joining a support group would provide me with another opportunity to meet people familiar with my situation, and would act as an outlet for my emotional and mental struggles. I know that being surrounded by people whom I cared about and I knew cared about me would be far easier than to trying to maintain my mental and emotional health alone.
I think that one of the hardest parts of being diagnosed with cancer would be having to completely alter my life, basing it on treatments, appointments, and tests, rather than ordinary things such as work and school. In an effort to maintain some sense of normalcy, I would attempt to continue with my education. I realize that may be a peculiar desire of someone who has cancer, yet I feel as though dropping out of school due to the disease would be succumbing to the idea that I wasn’t going to survive. The battle would leave me physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, but so many sacrifices have been made in order for me to attend school, and it would be incredibly challenging to put everything aside. Since I was a little girl, I’ve had the dream of going to veterinary school. I’m currently working towards this goal as a third-year Animal Biology major at UC Davis, and if I had to set aside that dream indefinitely, it would as though I were admitting I had no future. In a sense, by making every effort to continue living my life as normally as possible, I’d be reassuring myself that I was going to survive, and thus be granted the future I’ve spent so many years planning for.
Cancer is a very serious disease. It is, in my opinion, the most frightening word in the English language. It’s the strongest opponent anyone will ever face. Yet, it’s not always victorious. As James O’Connor proved, with thorough research, unrelenting determination, fierce courage, and incredible strength, cancer can be subdued into remission or even beaten entirely. The human spirit is a remarkable thing – in the face of adversary, no matter how ferocious, it often triumphs. Mr. O’Connor was an extraordinary man, and I am so fortunate to have heard his story.
By: Doroud, Shahla C.