Hayden, Sarah | Surviving Mesothelioma

Hayden, Sarah

I feel the need to start with a disclaimer. As of this moment, I am a happy, healthy young woman. I have never been diagnosed with any terminal illness, or even anything particularly dangerous. However, I have witnessed the deteriorating effects of cancer, seen the toll it takes on the loved ones who endure the struggle, and been a victim of the pain of losing a loved one to cancer. But to actually be diagnosed with cancer or any terminal illness might change my perspective entirely; everything I say in this essay is merely speculation, just educated guessing.

When I read James O’Connor’s story, it made my heart swell. To discover a person who had passed middle age but with so much determination to continue his life, should inspire anyone. This man changed the way he lived his life so he could continue to live it. Were I faced with the same challenges, with none of the ordinary routes to take, if chemo, radiation, and surgery were off the table, if I was told I would survive for a year, that I should plan my own funeral and write my will, I like to believe my reaction would be similar to Mr. O’Connor’s. I feel as though I would do what I could to find alternatives.

St. Francis Bacon once said “Knowledge is power.” Because I hold this statement to be true, I would do everything I could to gain as much knowledge as possible; knowledge about the cancer, the stages, previously used treatments and their successes, the most recent findings and research that is currently being looked into, anything that might possibly make a difference. My first step would be to read. There are so many ideas as to how to treat illnesses. Change of diet, medications, and laughter are all examples of suggested treatments that are out in the world. The internet is a great provider, if one only knows how to sift through what is legitimate and what is the fiction of a pick pocket. I found a resource that struck me because it spoke to me, not at me. The author of the website, Michael Guthrie, a registered pharmacist, provided links to the websites of doctors and cancer treatment centers that appeared to be legitimate. He offered information with a disclaimer. He did not pull me in with stories of miracle cures or try to turn me against traditional treatments by hurling accusations. He gave the facts he knew and offered places he trusted for the ones he did not know.

After I had gained what I could from my books and the internet, I would look into people. Others with the same diagnosis, the treatments they used. Success stories and the stories of those who lost their battles; what could have been different? I would consult doctors in both the traditional and alternative fields and get the opinions of them and their colleagues. More than anybody else, though, I would look to my family and friends. It seems highly unlikely that anyone could make it through the hardships of cancer without the support of those they loved. There is nothing in the world that could convince me a struggle was worth something more than the encouragement of my family and friends. Many have heard the song “Live like You were Dying” by Tim McGraw. There are so many things that I would want to do, so many sights to see, the world to take in. I am nineteen years old. Before I even discovered this essay, I wrote a three page “Bucket List.” If a doctor were to tell me tomorrow that I had terminal cancer, I believe I would seek help, but not at the expense of living. I would need a goal, something to focus on that did not include living through the hour or the day, or even the year, but something that included falling in love, seeing Victoria Falls in person, finding the end of a rainbow. There is more to see and do in this world than could be ever be done in a year, or two years, or even a lifetime, but it seems to me that the point is not doing and seeing everything, but living one’s life as fully as possible with as few regrets as we can manage.

It seems to me that treatments of the medical kind would only take one so far. After a point, courage and determination have to carry on the battle. Would I have enough to fight the way James O’Connor did?

I can only hope so.

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