Ellis, Emily | Surviving Mesothelioma

Ellis, Emily

James “Rhio” O’Connor-Don’t Ever Give Up!

Sometimes when I ponder the great mysteries of life, I eventually must face the fact that I am mortal and will someday die. We must all deal with these thoughts of our own mortality in our own way. Personally, it seems a little more real to someone like me who has had a loved one pass away because of cancer. The death of my friend affected me deeply and reading about the life of James “Rhio” O’Connor has brought all of the once suppressed emotions to the surface once more. Rhio’s story of courage in the face of death is strangely similar to my friend’s fight to beat the sometimes deadly disease of cancer. Although they had two different forms of cancer, their fight for survival is an inspiration to all who knew them.

James “Rhio” O’Connor was diagnosed with Pleural Mesothelioma, a cancer that causes the mesothelium around the lungs to actually invade the lungs. The mesothelium is the lining surrounding all internal organs and this cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos. It takes many years between exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms. At the time James was diagnosed, doctors gave him a year to live, but he was not about to accept defeat. Through a strong will to live, he chose to accept a different fate and developed his own treatment for the disease, since conventional cancer treatments did not give him much hope. As a result, James lived another 7.5 years, proving that the human spirit is sometimes stronger than modern medicine. For more information on this unique man’s life, use the following link to learn more: www.survivingmesothelioma.com.

That human spirit that I mentioned was also present within my friend Jan (not her real name). She was a free spirit that I knew from the time I was born. She was like a second mother to me and I am sure that she thought of me as one of her own. She was always so honest and genuine and cared for everyone she knew, much like Rhio. It was with great shock and sadness that we all found out that she had leukemia. Of all the people in the world, why her? To this day, we just do not understand. The symptoms she had were all too typical-joint pain, fever, weakness. She was never one to complain and by the time she was diagnosed, the disease was fairly progressed. Chemo was started and it quickly took its toll on her, as it does with everyone. She fought bravely, vowed to never give up, and held on as long as she could. In the end, she accepted her fate and let go. I have never personally known someone so brave and inspiring. That is why I find a great deal of similarity between Jan and Rhio.

After seeing James “Rhio” O’Connor’s story and seeing it as a source on inspiration, I would like to think that I would face a similar diagnosis in the same, head-on way. I think that when faced with such dire circumstances, I would reach out to all available sources of care, not just the conventional ones. I realize that I am only 19 years old, but I have always been told that I have a strong will. Some would call it stubbornness! I think that would serve me well if I were unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with cancer, especially a severe form of cancer like mesothelioma. The first thing I would probably do would be to gather both my immediate family and Jan’s family around me like a security blanket. I would need to draw upon both their love and support and their experience in battling cancer. I would try to attack the disease like it attacked me, with unstoppable ferocity. I would be like a general and send out my troops to accomplish different missions. I would ask my family and friends to help me research even the most obscure forms of treatment and I would not be afraid to test the waters if needed. People tend to do desperate things when faced with desperate circumstances. I presently attend The Ohio State University and am fortunate to have the James Cancer Hospital nearby, which is where my friend Jan received her care. It is a wonderful facility and I am sure they would assist me in any fight, just like they did with Jan.

I am sure that many people have heard of the great basketball coach, Jim Valvano. He was the coach of NC State and won a national championship in 1983. He later developed bone cancer and eventually passed away from the disease. He gave one of the most emotional and inspirational speeches ever, where he said, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up”. This has been an informal rule that I have lived by ever since I heard the speech, and it can be applied just as forcefully to the life of James “Rhio” O’Connor. His will to live in the face of almost certain death can, and is, as strong of an inspiration as you will ever find. Common people can do extraordinary things when faced with life changing events, and so was the legacy of Rhio.

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