“First, Do No Harm”
Hippocratic Oath Over a century ago, when people became sick, they died. Doctors typically did more damage to their patients than they helped. Even though the medical community has significantly expanded its knowledge of the body since then, people still die from devastating diseases like cancer. While physician knowledge regarding traditional treatment far outweighs a patient’s, it has become increasingly important for the patient to assume responsibility for treatment options outside of those traditional methods. James “Rhio” O’Connor rose to the challenge and accepted that responsibility.
Diagnosed at 61 years old with pleural mesothelioma, a physician told Rhio O’Connor that he had but a year to live. An extremely lethal form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma is a cancer that forms in cells that line organs in the body. Pleural mesothelioma, specifically, impacts lung tissue causing cells to form abnormalities and divide at an unusual rate. Unfortunately, these cancer cells often metastasize and infect other vital tissues and organs. Even more disheartening, positive outcomes using traditional medical therapies are rare. Find information regarding basic mesothelioma facts and treatments at www.survivingmesothelioma.com.
Rejecting the advice from doctors that he should pack for a cruise and get his affairs in order, Rhio O’Connor did just the opposite—he formulated his own treatment plan. From his painstaking research and impressive will to live, came a story that inspires and a book that educates entitled They Said Months, I Chose Years: A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story. Written by O’Connor to chronicle his roughly seven-year struggle with pleural mesothelioma, his story is remarkable in that he refused to believe that he had exhausted all treatment options and more importantly, stayed positive in the wake of a grim diagnosis. O’Connor’s undeterred passion to explore ideas and regimes outside of conventional medicine extended his life expectancy dramatically. Attitude is everything. He realized early on that the mind and spirit require nourishment in order to heal just as much as the body does. O’Connor’s receptiveness to holistic therapies that employ natural, non-toxic nutrients gave his immune system strength, whereas a treatment like chemotherapy would have left his body weak and depleted. His self-tested approach is common sense: once the body is healthier, then it can “manage” the cancer via the immune system.
While O’Connor’s book by no means rejects the use of traditional therapies, it does emphasize the importance of utilizing alternative and holistic treatments in conjunction with already available traditional medical therapies. Through O’Connor’s careful research and tireless effort to combat his pleural mesothelioma, his readers gain tremendous insight into the steps to take and questions to ask when facing a disease like cancer. If anything, readers will come away knowing that taking a proactive approach drastically increases someone’s chance for survival when battling a life-threatening disease.
After reading about O’Connor’s lifestyle changes, I found that our treatment plans share many similarities. I would begin by altering my diet by eliminating over-processed and hormone-filled foods in favor of organic fresh fruits and vegetables. So many of the foods we consume today can trigger an internal inflammatory reaction that is detrimental to good health. Additionally, I would consult with a nutritional expert to determine which supplements have immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory capabilities. My father has always believed in a strict vitamin regimen and he had me begin a similar plan about a year ago. His theory is that prevention is the key to good health. Then, I would find an outlet for stress and fear. Would I consider chemotherapy and radiation? Yes, but with caution. When a specialist recommends chemotherapy or radiation as the only line of treatment, a patient must consider some crucial points. First, the body can only tolerate a certain amount of poison. Second, chemotherapy is a non-targeted therapy, meaning it will eradicate good and bad cells alike. Third, the patient’s quality of life vastly diminishes sometimes to the point of no recovery. This is why a patient, at the very least, must investigate alternative or integrative treatments.
My family has seen impressive results from one particular plant-based drug that a patient uses alone or in conjunction with traditional cancer treatments. The drug comes from the Nerium oleander plant. The effective anti-cancer agent in the oleander is a lipid soluble cardiac glycocide. This is a targeted therapy because the anti-cancer agent is attracted only to a-3 cancerous cells. It has the ability to block tumor cell proliferation in various types of cancer without causing harm to normal human cells. Because this drug offers immunomodulatory benefits, patients frequently use it in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation. Boosting the immune system prior to a non-targeted therapy improves the body’s ability to fight the cancer as well as reduces the side effects normally associated with chemotherapy treatments.
So how does one go about finding reliable information? Many tools exist to help educate a patient on cancer and integrative treatments. Before beginning, however, I would learn as much as possible about my diagnosis. The need to understand test results, blood work, and the physician’s explanation is vitally important. From there, I would reference reliable government websites that contain articles from scholarly journals or other reputable sources that would help educate me. Magazines and medical publications are also great sources of information. There are monthly publications that offer valuable research on cancer treatments, new drugs, and experimental therapies. Other magazines encourage wellness and prevention, and offer protocols for disease management. Books written by alternative therapy purists also present research and details on alternative therapies and their outcomes. When exploring the possibility of using alternative therapy, patients should be prepared to overcome the objections of their medical team. Doctors are not always receptive to unconventional medications. If my doctor refused to work with me, I would find another doctor. Last, but not least, I would talk to people. Networking and word-of-mouth often net the most valuable and useful information.
Being a cancer patient takes a tremendous amount of courage and resilience. No matter how many disappointments or failures occur during treatment, patients have to fight constantly not only for their lives, but to remain optimistic and proactive. Each day brings its own challenges, as someone like Rhio O’Connor would know, but each day also brings new opportunities for success as well. Although, O’Connor eventually succumbed to his battle with pleural mesothelioma, he managed an incredible feat: he outlived an untreatable cancer diagnosis by more than 6 years. While O’Connor’s cancer may have controlled his health, he never allowed the cancer to control his life.
By: Gardner, Kate