Hauge, Charissa – Surviving Mesothelioma

Hauge, Charissa

With so many popular songs, quotes, and poems encouraging people to live each day as if it was their last, death is hard to avoid thinking about. “Live Like You Were Dyin’” is a popular song by Tim McGraw, while “Live Like We’re Dying” is a song by The Script, and the most recent American Idol, Kris Allen, has a new hit entitled, “Live Like We’re Dying.” While all of these song titles are similar – or exactly the same – they all have very different rhythms, tunes, and tempos. They do, however, have more than just a title in common; all of these songs have the same meaning. These songs share the common thought-provoking question, “How would you live differently if you knew your time left was short?” One of my personal favorite quotes says, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” This is an anonymously written quote that inspires me daily. How would I live if I was given a timeline? Would I live differently than I am? Would I try to change my seemingly decided fate? James O’Connor had to ask himself those questions when he was given one year to live.

James, or “Rhio,” O’Connor was diagnosed with Mesothelioma at age 61. Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly cancer that lies in the thin layer of cells lining the body’s internal organs. Rhio’s Oncologist told him he had less than a year to live and advised him to “take a vacation.” Rhio did anything but take a vacation. Instead of accepting that advice, he took matters into his own hands. O’Connor spent hours researching Mesothelioma, the causes, potential “cures,” the cancer itself, etc. He dedicated the life he had left to trying to fix himself, yes, but ultimately to help uncover some clues about this deadly cancer to help the future of others. Through his determination and change of personal lifestyle, he lived another 7 ½ years.

The concept of being given a timeline to live has been very prominent in my life recently. My uncle Don was diagnosed with ALS in the winter of 2007. ALS, though made known by the famous Lou Gehrig, is a very unknown disease. It is diagnosed only by ruling out every other possible issue. Don is one of the strongest men I’ve ever known in my life. Watching him deteriorate has been one of the most painful things I’ve ever been through. It’s been even harder watching my father see his baby brother die. The process is slow and incredibly painful for Don but he’s been an encouragement to my family even through this tough time. He reacted to his diagnosis very similarly to Rhio. Don read every single book he could find that has ever been written on ALS. He read biographies, autobiographies, medical journals, etc. My uncle talked to numerous specialists from every field of medicine and completely cleaned out his body. Through his research, he discovered that they believe one cause of ALS may be mercury exposure. Don had all of the fillings in his teeth removed and had his blood kelated. This means that he had his blood completely filtered out and cleaned and pumped back into his body. He changed his diet, multiple times to try to accommodate different studies he read. Although he is in his final days and still is dying of ALS, my uncle is very healthy otherwise and incredibly informed. He feels as though he is at peace about his disease because he has done everything he could to help himself, and others.

His process inspired my mother about a year ago. While checking for something else, doctors discovered my mother had a tumor on her kidney. The word “cancer” is a scary word and I never thought I would hear it spoken in the context of my best friend, my mom. In the fall of 2008 my mom was diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma. It affected me more than I can explain, but it also affected my mom. She showed us all how truly strong she is. She talked to multiple doctors and researched what she could do. The obvious option was to cut the tumor out. The more she studied this, the more she realized the risks that were associated. My mom learned of a treatment called Cryoblation. Essentially, the tumor would be killed inside of her, without removing it. To date, she is cancer free.

I’ve learned so much through my mom’s experience and through my Uncle Don’s experience. They’ve taught me how valuable life is and they’ve taught me what to fight for. If I was diagnosed with a deadly disease, I would absolutely do everything in my power to fight it. Giving up, to me, wouldn’t be an option. I would do extensive research and rely on the knowledge of others as well. I do feel like, though, when I had done everything I could do to help myself, I would have peace about dying. I don’t think I would desperately be trying to hang on to my life. I would be thankful that I had time to do what I needed and wanted to do and then just spend time being happy with my family. I know my uncle is dying in peace because he feels as though he’s done everything he could do. I’m so proud of what he’s accomplished in his life and I’m honored that he’s been a part of my life.

Rhio is an inspiration to all. His research on Mesothelioma is extensive and impressive. I admire his courage, diligence, and persistence to his life. Maria Robinson said, “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

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