I recently finished reading “Always Looking Up” by Michael J. Fox and the connection and similarity between his experiences with Parkinson’s disease and those of Rhio O’Connor with cancer were remarkable. I came across this scholarship and read about Rhio O’Connor’s life and felt as if I could already somewhat comprehend and grasp what he went through from reading Fox’s book. Fox’s struggle with overcoming the disease mentally, how his daily life changed so much because of the disease, and how he fought for others with his research and foundation was both emotional and uplifting. The story of Rhio O’Connor too, is a remarkable one for similar reasons as he studied and struggled with something greater than himself for over six years and never gave up. Today, he continues to fight for others with his impressionable message of persistence and hope in creating new therapeutic protocols.
In one part of “Always Looking Up”, Fox talks about how fear and faith are not in fact opposites of each other, but rather respect and faith are, and how this realization helped him change his view of the disease that was so much more powerful than him. Personally, I thought this was the best section of his book because for anyone there are things in life that we must learn to respect instead of fear – things that are simply out of our hands in the long run or are simply greater than ourselves. As Franklin Roosevelt said, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”
I mention this because Rhio O’Connor learned to respect his deadly cancer after his diagnosis through research rather than fearing it for the year he was given. Like Fox I assume, this research helped O’Connor change his outlook on his cancer and gave him the motivation to keep going. It is one thing to research a disease that you do not have, but there is a lot to be said for a person that is willing to grasp every aspect of something that is killing them. I truly believe that knowledge is one of the main links to respect because you cannot truly respect something until you are completely aware of it, and for me that is where my journey would begin. If I was diagnosed with cancer, I too, would spend hours on end trying to learn and understand every aspect of the disease that was taking over me. As a person who always feels the need to fix things around me that are broken, this step would not only be the first but also the hardest.
In truth, this step would be a whole challenge in itself for me, but I feel that this is where the other side of the spectrum that Fox talked about would come in: faith, optimism, and power. While knowledge is a strong link to respect, it is also one to power and with power comes change. For O’Connor, that meant formulating new ideas for treatment and personal healthcare and finding ways to live just one year longer. Through his own education he completely changed his own treatment for this ‘incurable’ disease. In addition, he remained strong in his faith and held on to an optimistic belief that new treatments were possible. I feel that the combination of these three qualities would stand strong against the challenges that were before me and help me to continue on with my journey with cancer. For me, I cannot honestly say which path I would chose after the first step as of now; however, as a student entering into medical research field in the next few years, I feel that I would likely chose the same path as O’Connor. Going into medicine, I have accepted the fact that medicine cannot fix everything and that recognized and dependable techniques such as chemotherapy and radiation are not successful or helpful sometimes. For those reasons I would be willing to try new techniques if it was meant for me to beat cancer. As I previously mentioned, I like to fix things so this step would be somewhat of an adventure for me. I plan on devoting my life to medical research in order to contribute to the development of new treatments for diseases such as cancer, so I would be doing something that I loved and enjoyed. Despite the fact that I would be doing research on a cancer that was attacking me, I would not let that affect my work and would be optimistic that better options were out there.
The beginning stages of my work would include testing my cancer cells, reviewing current drugs and treatments, and finding new studies or drugs that were soon to be tested. Both the current and new treatments and drugs would have the possibility of just needing small adjustments in order to treat my cancer. If these two options were not successful, then I would look for further options at other medical and research institutions in hopes that a break-through could occur. Again, I cannot truly say with a doubt in my mind that I would be willing to try every new treatment that I came across due to the side effects and risks with it. It would be difficult to balance listening to my own body and pushing through pain for hopes of a new treatment, but I know that God would guide me on my correct path and give me the strength and optimism to do so when the time came.
Overall, this journey with cancer would be a difficult one by having to deal with the daily changes and mental struggle of the disease. In addition, the research process is not quick and the waiting would be unbearable. However, I would anticipate that I would have the strength and optimism that Rhio O’Connor did with his battle against cancer. And in the end, I would hope that my journey could be described like Fox’s tagline: “the adventures of an incurable optimist.”
By: Hochstetler, Trinity