Durmis, Jeff

My Mountain, My Peak of Triumph

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness, let alone a terminal one, is among life’s most feared events. The crushing sensation of having a doctor come into the cold examination room and say something like, “Mr. Peterson, I am sorry to say, but you have cancer; malignant mesothelioma to be more precise.” My heart would cease to beat; my life’s greatest maelstrom has just been announced so innocently by this doctor. At that particular moment, everything I have come to know has been shattered, and what remains is an empty shell of a man; but I will embrace it, only for that moment. I have given in to that great despair only for an instant. After that life-long moment has passed, I must once again regain composure and control. Nothing will prevent me from accomplishing every single one of my life’s ambitions.

John Wanamaker once said, “One may walk over the highest mountain—one step at a time.” In order to climb such a mountainous obstacle, one must develop a plan of attack. I could not simply sit on the sidelines as this cancer attacks me; I must go on the offensive and find a way to take the fight to the cancer. I cannot allow the cancer to bring the fight to me, that course of action enables the cancer to have the advantage. But how does one fight cancer? Sure, there are the usual, although in my case, fruitless treatments such as: Chemo-therapy, radiation, and surgery (removing the malignant tumors and some surrounding tissue); but surly there must be another more effective treatment regime. This is where I would begin my research.

According to Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, mesothelioma is “a malignant tumor derived from the mesothelial cells of the pleura, peritoneum, or pericardium. It is found most often in smokers or persons with a history of exposure to asbestos.” There, now I have a definition. What it means precisely, I am still a little unsure. Now it is time to hit the internet. I searched through various articles–from web sites like: Web-MD, The Cleveland Clinic, and even John Hopkins—grasping every last piece of information I can to better understand what is happening to me, and to look into the most current forms of treatment. During my research I came across the story of James “Rhio” O’Connor, and it provided me with a safety rope, enabling me to continue my climb. He too, received the same diagnosis; and, he educated himself about this disease. Having done this, he was able to outlive his prognosis, of one year to live, by more than six years. This has become some much needed motivation to continue up, over my mountain.

I would take this new found information to my doctors for further explanation and discussion about which treatment is best for me. How does he think I should proceed? Would I be a candidate for any of the clinical trials going on? How would the surgery remove the fluid build-up in my lungs and what would the aftermath look like? How much does he know about Palliative Care—a specialty of medicine that focuses on the relief of symptoms, and helps the family achieve a better quality of life–and does this hospital participate? We are going over my mountain together, side by side, instead of him pulling me up from behind. With one more person by my side, I am putting together my team of mountain climbers. I move to my family next.

I have now prepared myself with all of the necessary equipment to survive my climb, almost. Having done a lot of research about mesothelioma and its treatments, including getting the opinion of the doctor as to which one he believes is right for me and why, I am now going over these options and opinions with my family. They have a right to be able to voice their opinion on what I should do; and, subsequently, what I will be putting them through. They are climbing that same mountain; they are just on a different face of it. Together, our ropes being the joined at the mountain’s peak, we will be pulling each other toward our peak of victory and triumph. Each time one side falters; the other can “pull on” and move the group on the other side of the mountain up just a little bit closer to our mutual goal.

I continue to look everywhere that I can. I read books on how to better cope with symptoms caused by my diagnosis. I look for alternative diets that may help me increase my energy a little. I continue to try different exercise regimes to help keep me as physically fit as possible. I fight depression with laughter, friends, and family. I stay focused on my church. I try to help my family deal with the burdens that I have placed on them, in the form of sadness, fear, and stress. I fight every single day to pull myself up to the top of my mountain. I visit blog sites to “talk” with other people whom are suffering from mesothelioma as well. I rummage through magazines, newspapers, books, and watch newscasts hoping to stumble across some information that may prove to be of benefit. I have even been known to research Ancient Chinese Medicine looking for some information that, if nothing else, may alleviate my symptoms. I continue to feed my brain with every piece of information that I can find regarding my diagnosis. With all of these things, I am able to turn my mountain into a mole hill.

Each of us deals with life’s obstacles a little different. Above is what I would do if I had received a diagnosis of mesothelioma. I have never received a mesothelioma diagnosis . . . I have, however, received a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. I too have shared James “Rhio” O’Connor’s passion for refusing to allow his diagnosis to beat him. I have taken this opportunity, this “blessing” as it were, to completely revamp my life. I have decided to change careers, and obtain my college education. I have a new-found dedication to my family. I know enjoy all of the little things that life has to offer, and the rekindling of my desire to learn more. I have found that remaining empowered through knowledge, and optimism, has been my safety rope during the climb of my mountain. My family has remained poignant with their love and support, climbing my mountain on the other side, helping me reach my peak of triumph.

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