Faulkner, Tris-Ann – Surviving Mesothelioma

Faulkner, Tris-Ann

“Cancer means life”

The first word I found when I searched for a synonym for ‘cancer’ was torment. I had been looking for words that would help me grasp the full significance of this disease. I encountered words such as poison, curse, ailment and death, all which were said to be ‘synonymous’ to the effects of this affliction. In every language the word cancer signifies dread, fear and fatality. It is even negatively referred to as the ‘Big C.’ All who I have known to experience this disease have thought of it as an emotional and disastrous journey to the end. The best way that I could overcome being diagnosed with a disease such as cancer, is by giving it new meaning. I would equate the word ‘cancer’ with life, because with positivity and hope all challenges and trials can become successes.

James ‘Rhio’ O’Connor’s story of survival was truly inspiring. In 2001 he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. It attacks the protective lining of many of the body’s internal organs and causes symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and anemia. Treatments for this disease include chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. Most of these treatments are not used in isolation, but as combined therapies. After being diagnosed, Rhio was given the undesirable prognosis of one year to live. Surgery was not an option because the malignant tumor was located near his spine, an area too risky to operate on. Also, chemotherapy was not advised because it would have decreased his quality of life without any promise of life extension. Rhio was politely advised to prepare for death. He was facing a deadly and incurable cancer that in his case, seemed even more improbable to survive. Nevertheless, Rhio rejected this prognosis and decided to take the situation into his own hands. He had a strong will to live and was determined to do so without the constraints of a deadline. Rhio’s optimism and determination to survive led him to seek the help of many medical professionals. He also conducted his own research on the disease and used this research as well as the help he received from other physicians, to create an alternative method of treatment. Rhio changed his diet regimen and utilized the benefits of good nutrition as steps to combat his ailment. He was able to educate himself about his diagnosis and use his extensive research to outlive his one-year prognosis by an incredible seven and a half additional years. Rhio did not allow cancer’s negative reputation to defeat him. His positive mentality, determined attitude and self- taught expertise on the disease, simultaneously operated to achieve one goal, survival. These were the key factors to Rhio’s remarkable accomplishments.

Rhio’s achievements demonstrate the effect that positivity has on the human mind. Like “Rhio”, positivity and determination have been two of the most important values in my life. I was taught by my faith and parental nurturing that a negative state of mind would cause regression rather than progression. My parents always emphasized the importance of positive thinking. They would ask me what gain I would receive from complaining or expressing distaste toward a situation I was faced with. This advice was given to me in every circumstance, whether it had to do with fear of receiving a bad grade or dissatisfaction with a personal choice. Because of my parent’s beneficial advice, I try to restrain any negative thought that may come about when I encounter an undesirable situation. I have not always been successful in doing this, but still yet, I seek to adhere to this principle. I strongly believe that optimistic thinking can help bring about a suitable solution for any negative that one is faced with. I have been able to overcome many obstacles- academic, personal and family- related, with the help of a positive attitude. Nonetheless, dealing with the diagnosis of a possibly terminal illness like mesothelioma as well as a grim prognosis, are circumstances that I would never be prepared to handle. Positivity, regardless of my philosophy of optimism, would be difficult to sustain in a situation such as this.

Eventually, I would have to accept my new situation. The passing of time would serve as a healing medium. Acceptance would be the first and most important step to my journey to recovery. Without acceptance, moving forward and succeeding would be unattainable. My next step would be prayer. Prayer and my faith in God have always been my guiding lights and my ‘non-physical’ forms of life support. Prayer allows me to view things in a new light, and helps me realize that I always have spiritual support. With prayer my level of positivity increases. In this circumstance it would allow me to see that I do have control over the situation, if even indirectly. Next, I would get the advice of my physician on the steps I should follow, whether radiation, chemotherapy, surgery or all. However, before agreeing to any of these treatments I would educate myself on my disease, its possible treatments and their side effects, along with information on their success rates. My goal would be to SURVIVE, not to prove the doctors wrong, or to show that my prognosis was inaccurate, but for my own well-being. I would not think of my disease as incurable, but as conquerable.

Like Rhio, if I were told that common treatments would not offer much, I would look beyond conventional medicine. This would be my most difficult decision, as I would not know if I should forego trying these treatments before choosing an alternative. If advised by my physician and supported by a second opinion that chemotherapy, surgery or radiation would not allow me to extend my lifespan, then alternative medicine would be my next step. I would seek the advice of my family and other oncologists, look through medical journals, join cancer patient groups, look through cancer survivor testimonials, and any other avenues that would assist me in preparing my new treatment strategy. I would do anything legal that would help me combat this internal war regardless of the price, as life in itself is priceless. Rhio’s concept of nutrition as a way to attack his disease was practical. Research has proven that good physiological health and nutrition play a big role in the reduction of disease susceptibility. I too would use nutrition as a treatment method, e.g. changing my diet by eliminating high fat, high sugar content foods, eating raw foods, more vegetables etc. along with exercise.

Additionally I would try newer cancer treatment techniques such as immunotherapy or hormonal therapies, subject to the type of cancer I was diagnosed with and its stage of development. This combination of treatments I believe, would greater my chances of survival. I would chance all of the these techniques and many more if necessary, because trial has never been something that has failed me. Trying is the key to knowledge as well as the key to accomplishment. These treatment techniques along with a positive and rational mind-set would aid in my recovery process.

The most important lesson that I have learned from Rhio’s battle with mesothelioma and his survival, is that perseverance and positivity are the main ingredients to success. If I were diagnosed with mesothelioma or any other cancer, I know that with the help of God, my family, and my own dedication to survive, a positive outcome would be guaranteed. Rhio’s story depicts the importance of persistence, optimism and being decisive. Also, what one may not realize about Rhio’s triumph is how crucial the power of the mind is to one’s well being. Positivity may sound like a seemingly easy goal, but it will not help if it is realized temporarily. It needs to be a continued, constant mental outlook. The mind is influenced by what you feed it. If a person believes a specific outcome will occur it is likely that it will occur. Rhio gave cancer new meaning. Cancer for him meant life. Rhio’s passing 7 and a half years after his ‘one year prognosis’ does not signify failure, but success. He did not surrender to cancer’s reputation of death as with his determination he long outlived his prognosis. Rhio’s survival was a definite result of his mind-set. He at no time entertained the thought of failure. His positivity allowed him to find other ways to treat his illness. His story inspires me to continue believing in myself and believing that with faith and with determination I can do anything. We have been to the moon, and we have explored the depths of the oceans. We can do anything if we try. James “Rhio” O’Connor’s survival is a genuine representation of the transformation of death into new life. Cancer for Rhio meant life.

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