Another Chance At Life

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer found in the mesothelium, which is a protective sac that covers most of the body’s internal organs. Mesothelioma is a disease in which cells of the mesothelium become abnormal and divide without control or order and invade nearby tissues and organs causing damage. These abnormal cancerous, or malignant, cells can also spread to other parts of the body. Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked on jobs where they inhaled asbestos particles. Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals found in the form of masses of strong, flexible fibers that can be woven into many different industrial and commercial products like brakes, house shingles, floors and insulation. During the manufacturing process tiny asbestos particles float in the air and can be inhaled or swallowed causing serious health problems. Exposure to asbestos can also increase the risk of lung and other cancers, such as kidney and larynx cancer and asbestosis which is a noncancerous, chronic lung disease.

Working with asbestos is the major risk factor for mesothelioma with 70 to 80 percent of all cases reporting prior asbestos exposure. However, mesothelioma has been reported in some individuals without any known exposure to asbestos. Initially, the risks associated with asbestos exposure were not known, but an increased risk of developing mesothelioma was found among people who work in asbestos mines and mills, those who produce asbestos products and others who work in the heating and construction field. Today there are limits for acceptable levels of asbestos exposure in the workplace. People who work with asbestos wear personal protective equipment to lower their risk of exposure. The risk of asbestos-related disease increases with heavier and longer periods of exposure. However, some individuals with only brief exposures have developed mesothelioma and not all workers who are heavily exposed develop asbestos-related diseases at all.

There has been some evidence that family members and others living with or regularly exposed to asbestos workers have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases due to exposure to asbestos dust brought home on the clothing and hair of asbestos workers. Therefore, workers are usually recommended or required to shower and change their clothing before leaving the workplace to reduce the spread of asbestos fibers and the unnecessary exposure of family members and others to the risk of developing these asbestos related illnesses.

James “Rhio” O’Connor was a truly brave and extremely inspirational man. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma and was told he had one year to live. But due to Mr. O’Connor’s amazing optimistic outlook, instead of giving up he began to rigorously search for answers beyond the norm. He spoke with many doctors, researchers and patients and also spent hours in the library researching the deadly disease that he was told was incurable. He studied the pro’s and con’s of available mainstream treatments that were offered to him such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, but he also went beyond those treatments to research less know methods for treating cancer. He researched the side effects of all these treatments and the ideology behind them. This helped him to create his own plan for general good health and cancer treatments based on factual information and to work with his doctors and clinicians instead of just allowing them to “work on” him. He outlived his prognosis by six years and made amazing decisions and discoveries that now benefit current mesothelioma patients in their treatment plans.

Mr. O’Connor’s story is inspirational to me because I lost my father when I was 17 to a terribly aggressive and ravaging “incurable” cancer. He was diagnosed in stage four of pancreatic cancer and told he had 6 months to live. He took the treatments the doctors offered and never thought to question if there were alternatives because they were doctors and we all assumed they knew exactly how to treat him. He passed away 6 months later almost exactly to the day. Since that time in 1988 cancer has also taken several of my father’s siblings. So, I am very inspired by Mr. O’Connor’s courage to question and defy his prognosis.

There has been much more research done on cancer treatment since Mr. O’Connor, my father and his siblings’ were diagnosed that would greatly improve my treatment options if I were diagnosed with some form of cancer. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a devastating and scary thing. I can only hope I would have the courage to seek out information and additional treatments as Mr. O’Connor did. I think I would first turn to the internet where there are masses of information on all forms of cancer. Cancer Monthly, which sponsors this scholarship essay contest, located at, has a tremendous amount of information on a wide range of cancers such as breast, colon, kidney, liver, lung, ovarian, rectal and prostate cancer as well as mesothelioma and others. They also offer links to other informational cancer websites.

I would also look into Cancer Treatment Centers of America. They have a lot of inspirational testimonial television advertisements of real people who received cancer diagnoses and just felt hopeless with the traditional treatments offered them along with a ticking-clock life expectancy and they turned to Cancer Treatment Centers of America for newfound hope. They involve the patients there in their own healthcare choices and approach cancer as a holistic healing of the entire person through traditional, nutritional and even spiritual guidance as well as other factors such as compassionate care throughout the healing process. They truly consider it a healing process, not a treatment process. There website offers much encouragement and can be found at I am fortunate enough to live very near their facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A lot of patients travel great lengths to be treated at one of their five current centers throughout the U.S. with a new facility coming soon.

I would also ask a lot of questions. I’d visit centers and talk to the doctors and patients alike and gather as much information as I could from people who have experienced the disease first hand. I’d seek out support groups for support as well as for gathering information and getting advice. I’d definitely look beyond traditional treatment, because if no one ever searched for additional treatment methods, none would be found. I’d speak to my family and friends, teachers and co-workers and ask them to aid me in my treatment by spreading the word and searching for people in their circles who are now or already have faced the decisions I would be facing and help me gather information that could save my life.

In conclusion, I certainly hope I would have the strength and courage such as that Mr. James “Rhio” O’Connor displayed at the time of his diagnosis and during his treatment. Those last six years of his life and the research he performed and decisions he made were an astounding contribution to the treatment of all patients since him. He searched out and compiled the information to make it easier for those who came after him to get the answers he desperately searched for. What he left behind is a truly remarkable gift of hope, of another chance at life.

By: Ennis, Rosonna

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