Fenton, Stephanie – Surviving Mesothelioma

Fenton, Stephanie

The Power of Choice Evident by the Fortitude of James Rhio O’Connor

What would you do if you were given one year to live? This is a hypothetical question for most, a type of fantasy game people play. Speculation is made on what be would be seen or done, what can be accomplished within 365 days. The question is profound because it gives reason for self-reflection, permission to assess one’s past, evaluate the present and acknowledge what is important for the future. Of course, in the game, one imagines that last year filled with health, as if nothing has changed but the awareness of their demise. Visions are without regard to the altered mindset of a person who is dying; the players disregard that what is deemed important in health may suddenly appear trivial on borrowed time.

For sixty- one year old James Rhio O’Connor, the game of make believe became reality when he was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused by asbestos exposure when he was younger. Mesothelioma is a disease in which cancer cells develop in the mesothelium, the protective sac surrounding the body’s internal organs. The cancer invades and damages organs with the potential to spread to other parts of the body (Mesothelioma Facts). James Rhio O’Connor developed pleural mesothelioma, in which the membrane surrounding the lungs and lines the wall of the chest cavity becomes cancerous (Mesothelioma Facts). Given just one year to live and a doctor’s recommendation to take his wife on a cruise before beginning hospice, Mr. O’ Connor decided to forgo his doctor’s advice and made the choice to concentrate on survival rather than death (Mesothelioma survivors). Refusing to accept his grim prognosis, forgoing a “bucket list” to be systematically checked off within twelve short months, he made a conscious decision not to give up; he would be an active participant instead of victim- a decision that made Mr. O’Connor an indomitable contender against cancer and outlive his prognosis by over six years.

James Rhio O’Connor’s proactive resolution to live demonstrates that while one may not always choose what happens in life, one can choose how to handle it. Instead of blind acceptance, Mr. O’Connor fervently became educated. Traditionally, there are three types of treatment for patients with mesothelioma: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, but they can drastically hinder the quality of remaining life without providing substantial longevity. As an alternative, Mr. O’ Connor absorbed profuse information from books, doctors, researchers and patients, and decided to develop his own approach that encompassed diet and nutrition, supplements, and mind-body medicine. By becoming a partaker in his destiny he regained control in a seemingly powerless situation.

Perhaps James Rhio O’Connor’s greatest stratagem was his disposition- a positive, disciplined outlook that permeated others. Researchers have speculated that a positive mind can benefit the body. According to studies, optimistic thinking may lead to better psychological and physical well being with the ability to reduce stress and its harmful effects on the body (Positive Thinking). Believing in his personal influence of healing, and assuming a constructive attitude Mr. O’ Connor aided in his unexpected longevity. By sharing his experiences and hopefulness with others, he became an inspiration, setting an example for mankind to utilize free will, embrace a capable mind, listen to personal instincts, and never give up- a message that anyone can benefit from, despite their cancer status.

Though Mr. O’ Connor eventually succumbed to mesothelioma, I would still declare that he “beat” cancer. Not only did he outlive his grim prognosis six-fold, his legacy has lived on for other cancer patients and survivors to embrace. A year ago, my father in law was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer and passed away eight weeks after diagnosis. By the time he could comprehend his fate, he was hardly cohesive enough to process it. My husband and I found ourselves wishing we had that one-year life sentence; we needed just one good year to spend quality time with him. His granddaughters wanted him to attend one last dance recital, one last volleyball game. One more year would have given him the opportunity to walk his daughter down the aisle, finish restoring the classic Opel he had been working on in the garage. Being told my father in law had one year to live would have given chance for research, the possibility for treatment, and the opportunity to explore alternative methods. One year would not have been a death sentence; it would have been a blessing.

Before my father in law’s death, my husband and I would toy with the one- year to live game. Of course my twelve months were packed with travel and extreme sports cramming all I wanted to see and do before I died, making sure I left the earth feeling like I had “lived.” After my father in law’s passing my theoretical last year transformed to one of unremarkable normalness, a new itinerary consisting of doing exactly what it is I do now- ballet classes, volleyball tournaments, playing cards with the parents, movies, hugging, loving. I realize I am truly happy; my family is my legacy, my accomplishment.

After learning of James Rhio O’Connor’s story, I do know my final 365 days would also consist of learning, passionately understanding my illness, probing for methods that may or may not bring a cure but grant me peace, tranquility and hopefully an extra six years. I would take in the opinions and advice of medical experts, regard library books, look upon Internet sites, and attempt to find a support group of both cancer patients and survivors. If conventional treatments appeared fruitful, I would combine them with a focus on a healthy mind, body and spirit through religious leadership, relaxation breathing, center focused exercise. I know for certain that I would not be a bystander to my fate; I would take an active role, become a contributor to my outcome. Thanks to Mr. O’Connor, I have a new understanding that I may not always be able to control destiny, but I can decide how to react to it- and that is where true power lies.

References:

“Mesothelioma Facts.” www.survivingmesothelioma.com 21 February 2010

“Mesothelioma Survivors.” www.survivingmesothelioma.com 21 February 2010

“Positive Thinking: Reduce stress, enjoy life more” Mayo Clinic. 21 February 2010

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