Heisinger, Ryan – Surviving Mesothelioma

Heisinger, Ryan

“You will always hear me singing this song. Show me the way to go home.” I see the words leave my grandmother’s lips as I turn around, playing the final cadence on the piano. Her eyes sparkled, and for a moment–just a moment–she resembled the her youthful self, as in the painting that hung directly behind where she was sitting. It was beautiful; not the serene sort of beauty one would imagine, but a chaotic, raw beauty, as I knew that it would soon be swept away.

Nonnie, as I called her, was in the mid to late stages of Alzheimer’s Disease–a disease that attacks a person’s memory, first in the short term, then in the long term, until they effectively forget how to function. Every Wednesday night, my family would take her from her nursing home to our house for dinner. This, though, would be the last time that happened.

I could write a book about the memories I had with my grandmother, but I think the reason this story is so important to me and so relevant to this essay prompt is that life is full of tiny, little miracles. I know it sounds so incredibly cliché, but Nonnie remembering the words to a song when she couldn’t even remember her own name, Rhio O’Connor outliving his cancer prognosis by 6 years–they’re miracles.

Rhio O’Connor was diagnosed with mesothelioma in October, 2001. Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that forms on the mesothelium, or protective lining of certain bodily organs–most typically the lungs, but also the heart, and abdominal cavity (the peritoneum); it is linked with exposure to asbestos. Through extensive research, alternative treatment choices, and lifestyle changes he managed to live over seven and a half years with the disease. In his book, They Said Months. I Chose Years!, he documents everything he did to outlive his prognosis and fight the disease.

I think the way that Rhio handled his bout with cancer was exemplary, and if placed in a similar situation, I would seek to do everything he did. I would explore various treatment options and get second, third, even tenth opinions on how to handle it from clinicians, researchers, other patients, and my family and friends of course, all while employing Rhio’s research which he included in his book. I also think the mind is stronger than science has proven thus far. Hence, keeping an optimistic outlook and cherishing life would be extremely important to me. I would also seek to utilize mind-body medicine, like Rhio did. And even if I couldn’t be cured, I would do all I could to live as long and comfortably as possible.

To elaborate on how I would go about seeking treatment, if placed in Rhio’s situation, it is important to explore the options he had. According to mesotheliomaalliance.com, surgery was not an option because of the tumor’s placement and chemotherapy would not significantly lengthen his lifespan while it would decrease his quality of life. With the help of a number of clinicians, I would compile a personal set of supplements that could, in some way, help me. Rhio notes, in his book, that one’s diet greatly influences their functions both immediately and over time. Thus, I would seek to create a healthy, personalized diet for me with the help of a nutritionist, keeping in mind that my body would have to be in good condition if it were going to overcome this disease. Mind-body medicine is something that I find particularly intriguing. As I mentioned before, I genuinely believe that the mind is much more powerful than science has shown it is. Rhio articulates the importance of one’s emotions, spiritual life, and behavior to their health. This is something I would absolutely be interested in exploring.

I am a strong believer in God, and I trust that everything happens to us for a reason. I suspect that, perhaps, when something like this happens to us, God intends for it to be some sort of wake-up call. But regardless of how you may feel about God, I think it’s fair to say that we can learn and grow from these situations.

As Morrie Schwartz states in Tuesdays With Morrie, a memoir compiled by Mitch Albom, “So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” All of these songs we hear on the radio and inspirational quotes we see tell us to live like we’re dying… and we know we should. So, why don’t we listen? Maybe it takes a wake-up call like Rhio’s.

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