Won’t Break My Stride: A Speculative Look At A Devastating Diagnosis

Won’t Break My Stride: A Speculative Look at a Devastating Diagnosis

In October of 2001, an oncologist advised James “Rhio” O’Connor that he should spend some time with his loved ones, then make appropriate preparations for his last days.  O’Connor had been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma and was given approximately one year to live.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that initially affects the lining of our bodily organs.  There are actually three different types; pleural, pericardial, and peritoneal.  Many times the disease spreads from these linings to lymph nodes and other organs.  It is essential to catch this cancer early; however, it is common for its symptoms to be overlooked because they are easily mistaken for less serious ailments. Doctors often give an average survival rate of eight to twelve months.

If you were O’Connor would you accept the doctor’s professional prognosis and follow his orders?  It’s impossible to imagine what one might do when faced with such a finite future.  For James “Rhio” O’Connor, believing that he could do nothing to help himself was not an option.  With meticulous research and relentlessly looking for answers, O’Connor uncovered valuable information that he would employ, giving him an additional seven and a half years that his doctor predicted he wouldn’t have.  During those years, O’Connor didn’t seem to rest much; he published a book that would share his inspiring story, he continued his research, and most importantly he maintained his courageous spirit.  One’s decision regarding their future is most likely related to who they are and how they have defined themselves throughout life.  How would I explore my future if I were in O’Connor’s shoes?

Being an individual that has always cherished education and any sort of learning experience, I would first obtain as much information as I could about the disease and develop a thorough comprehension of it. I would use every resource available to learn as much as possible about existing treatments, conventional and non-conventional included; it’s important to keep an open mind and consider every available option.

Another form of treatment that I have a lot of faith in, and also one that O’Connor seemed to believe in as well, is mind-body medicine.  This has not only to do with what you are doing physically to manage and treat cancer, but also what you are doing mentally.  There are many ways to think of this.  I would consider this question:  Do I sincerely believe that I can take an active role in mentally challenging this disease?  In other words, do I honestly believe that the way I feel and think can alter the progression of the cancerous cells in my body?  I consider attitude, outlook, and determination to be powerful tools.  In fact, honing these tools would be my priority.

Being happy would be a high priority for me.  I would want to spend as much time as possible doing the things I loved, not because I felt like I was running out of time, but because I would have a better sense of what is important in life.  I would want to have fun; I would spend time with family and friends, or take a cross-country road trip.  I strongly feel that our happiness is a key element to our health.

Lastly, I would want to make an effort to educate and inspire those who are struggling with the same hardships that I faced; I would want to make a difference, leave my mark in this world.  Like Mr. O’Connor did, I would set up a scholarship fund to financially assist those in need.  I feel that everyone deserves higher education should they seek it.  It’s a shame that many would-be students are faced with making a life choice because of financial difficulties.  Who are we turning away?  Perhaps the next Einstein or Hawking, or maybe another James Joyce or Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  In addition to setting up a scholarship fund, I would also work hard to bring a bill to Congress that brings down the cost of education.  Too many students settle on a school that is not up to their level of learning simply because larger universities and private schools are too costly.

Learning more about James “Rhio” O’Connor has forced me to reflect and catalog my accomplishments in the past and the challenging endeavors I would like to take on in the future.  How can I accomplish everyday tasks differently?   What kind of person do I want to be?  My speculation of how I would handle the heavy diagnosis O’Connor did in 2001 is how I would like to believe I would be.  But, like I mentioned before, ones decision regarding their future is most likely related to who they are and how they defined themselves through life.  I feel resilient, I feel smart, and I feel optimistic, but I can only hope that I would hold as solid and strong as Mr. O’Connor did.

n.d.  “Mesothelioma Questions and Answers.”
Cancer.gov.  National Cancer Institute, 13 May 2002, Web.  22 Feb.  2010
n.d.  “Pleural Mesothelioma.”
Mesothelioma-lung-cancer.org.  n.d., n.d., Web.  22 Feb. 2010
n.d.  “Surviving Mesothelioma: A Patients Guide; James Rhio O’Connor.”
Survivingmesothelioma.com.  Cancer Monthly, Inc,  n.d., Web.  22 Feb. 2010

By: Dukes, Correy S.

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