Someone once told me, “Lisa, when things get messed up, you have to take a breath and look for the opportunity within the challenge.” We all have events in life that have happened which have shaken our bodies, minds, and spirits. These trials serve as a speed bump, and we have choices about how we react to them. Do we hit the bump, become annoyed, and let that annoyance drive us into an unfortunate accident? Do we hit the bump without much notice and continue barreling down the road at high speed? Or do we hit the bump, adjust our speed, and gracefully say thank you for the reminder? From my perspective, there is no right answer here. But there is a choice that must be made. The greatest mentors in my life have taught me to make thoughtful decisions with awareness and intention. The story of James “Rhio” O’Connor is an amazing example of someone who hit one of those speed bumps in life and took the opportunity to gracefully adjust.
O’Connor was sixty-one years old in 2001 when he was diagnosed with pleural (lung) mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer). He was given one year to live and advised to get his affairs in order. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are the conventional methods for treating mesothelioma. However, O’Connor’s tumor had grown near his spine and surgery was not possible. Additionally, Chemotherapy and radiation were not great options because these treatments would decrease his quality of life significantly without necessarily improving the length of his life.
Mesothelioma is believed to be caused by exposure to asbestos, which O’Connor was in contact with when he was younger. The mesothelium is like a double layered sac that produces a lubricating fluid and surrounds most of the internal organs of the body. This flexible sac allows organs to glide smoothly over the bones and muscles that function as the support and movement structures of our bodies. With Mesothelioma, cells of the mesothelium become abnormal and divide uncontrollably, harming and damaging the surrounding organs and tissues. (check out www.survivingmesothelioma.com for more information).
After being diagnosed with such a terminal form of this cancer, O’Connor could have let the shock take him down some very negative thought paths. Instead, he became determined to survive. He spent hours researching his options, which included alternative therapies. O’Connor’s perseverance paid off. With the assistance of other professionals, he began a personalized treatment that included changing his diet, taking over 100 supplements a day, and integrating mind-body medicine into his life. He continued to live his life for 8 more years before passing away in 2009. His gift to the world is his story, which he tells in his book, They said months. I choose years: A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story.
I find O’Connor’s story inspiring and refreshing on many levels. I believe in the power of medicine that treats the body, mind, and spirit of a person in an individual way and serves to help them connect with and understand their own body. I have witnessed the healing benefits of nutrition through watching my mother take a similar healing path to O’Connor’s when she was encouraged to have a biopsy of a lump that showed up on a mammogram. My mother completely changed her diet to make her body a place where cancer could not survive, which has been a vital part of her path to regain her health. In addition to changing her diet, she has become much more tuned in to what is going on in her body and has begun receiving various forms of bodywork, such as Therapeutic Massage.
As a student at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy (BCMT is in Boulder, Colorado and has an Associates program), I am becoming more and more convinced of the healing potential that exists when I connect with my classmates and clinic clients in a caring and intentional way. My journey to massage school has not been a straightforward one. It has taken obtaining a Bachelor’s degree at another college and working for several years as an Outdoor Educator for me to arrive at this school. Sometimes I find myself becoming overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material I have to learn about muscles, bones, functional systems of the body, and various therapeutic techniques. It is my passion for helping people to regain health through bodywork that inspires me to keep going through the academic rigor and mental and emotional growth that I am going through.
Additionally, the stories of O’Connor and my mother have lead me to become interested in the field of Oncology Massage (Massage for people living with cancer). Though a certification in this form of massage is not offered at BCMT, I intend to pursue this certification upon graduation. For years, massage was not recommended as an additional treatment for cancer patients because it was believed that increasing circulation could promote metastasis (the spread of disease from one organ to another) since tumor cells travel through blood and lymph channels. We now realize that movement end exercise raise circulation much more than a massage does, and studies are taking place to explore the benefits of massage for cancer patients. Many of these studies are finding that massage helps reduce anxiety, ease pain, control nausea, improve sleep, and ease fatigue. All of these findings are benefits to people whose bodies need all of the extra support they can get while they are fighting off cancer and regaining health. (Check out http://www.amtamassage.org/journal/fa_00_journal/cancer_metastasis_1.html for a great article about massage and cancer spread).
I have so many amazing mentors at BCMT currently. These mentors, comprised of my teachers, my classmates, and my clients, challenge me and coach me every day to become the best therapist that I can be. They are there for me when I hit those speed bumps. The stories of other people are also a valuable reminder of how to navigate life and education with style and grace. I am very grateful for James “Rhio” O’Connor’s story. It truly is a wonderful and inspiring reminder of the impact that making thoughtful decisions with awareness and intention can have on life.