Flugrad, Rebecca | Surviving Mesothelioma

Flugrad, Rebecca

For a man that was given six months to live, James O’Connor went above and beyond the expectations of his doctors by living nearly seven years with mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a particularly deadly type of cancer with a low survival rate due to tumors that develop in close proximity to the heart or lungs. Mr.O’Connor, often called ‘Rhio,’ was given two common options; chemotherapy or surgery. Surgery was out of the question because of the precarious position of a tumor near Rhio’s spine, and chemotherapy was rejected because it is known to drastically reduce the quality of life for the patient.

As a student, I know that it is important to comprehend background information before learning about more difficult topics. Faced with a serious diagnosis, I would begin recovery by first understanding my condition. My knowledge of biology would be a valuable background upon which to build more information. In several of my courses, we have already discussed various causes and cellular mechanisms of cancer. Some of the topics we covered include how ultraviolet light from the sun has the capability to alter the DNA in skin cells, resulting in skin cancer, and how most tumors occur because the cancerous cells are unable to exit the replication stages of the cell’s life cycle. Using this foundation, I would build on my knowledge to fully grasp my situation.

My research would be ongoing, but I would need to decide on an immediate treatment to manage my condition. Making sacrifices in the present to improve the future is essential in all areas of life, and I am no stranger to this concept. My frugality exemplifies how I sacrifice for my future. Given the option to eat at a restaurant, I opt to eat at home and when I’m bored, I go hiking instead of going to the movies. By spending less money now, I hope to decrease my debt later. I also devote much of my time studying in lieu of spending time with friends, so that after graduation I will have the freedom to attend a school of my choice. With my future always in mind, the long-term effects of each therapy would be an important consideration. Although radiation and chemotherapy may be effective, side-effects could surface months or even years beyond the removal of the cancer. I would then focus on finding alternative or complementary treatments.

In Rhio’s case, a major diet change seemed to make all the difference. By eliminating fried foods and sugars from his diet, and adding daily supplements such as vitamins and minerals, he was able to outlive his grim prognosis by more than six years. Clearly there is merit to some unconventional solutions, and to discover which ones I may want to try, I would need to find new sources for information. I would go to other cancer patients to find suggestions for alternative regimens that have been effective for them. Looking to cohorts for help has worked for me as a student. Sometimes working in a group is better than trying to wrest a problem out on my own, and it may therefore also be beneficial as a cancer patient. It is important to speak to people who have expertise, as well. When my fellow students can’t help me, I seek out my professors, who are certainly very knowledgeable on the subjects that they teach. Likewise, as a cancer patient, I would talk to clinicians and other professionals, because they may have knowledge that I overlooked or that would otherwise not be available to me.

Once I have gathered data about many different treatment types, I would employ a trial-and-error methodology to determine how best to manage my condition. Remedies that worked well for others may not work for me. I encounter a similar situation at school. Although visualizing concepts works well as a learning agent for me, other students sometimes benefit more from listening to an explanation as opposed to seeing a picture. Similarly, I would need to discover which approach is effective for my particular type of cancer, and which works harmoniously with my body. I would first choose among those that leave the smallest negative impact on my future and gradually implement less favorable options while eliminating those that are ineffective.

Rhio’s story deeply resonates with me. He took responsibility and faced his problem head on, even under adverse conditions. I emulate his behavior on a daily basis by working to the fullest of my capabilities to achieve my ambitions, despite a nearly saturated schedule. During the week, I spend at least eight hours a day studying and attending lectures, and one day a week, I tutor other biology students. At the end of each day, I take a few minutes to catch up on world news via podcast. Every Friday I devote three or more hours in the emergency department at a local hospital, handing out warm blankets to patients and making their family members comfortable. During the weekend I continue studying, and I make time to be with my family. Even with all of my commitments, I am still a successful student, and enjoy a satisfying home life. Everyone encounters adversity, sometimes it as simple as a hectic schedule or as serious as a cancer diagnosis, yet what defines us is not which challenges we face, but how we overcome them.

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