Life Changing Courage
Some said, “It will all turn out okay.” Others advised, “Once we get this under control, you’ll still be able to do all the things you used to do.” Many gave thoughts of optimism: “Lots of people have fought this disease before, and some are even great athletes.” Most had positive faith in science and medicine. “Treatments available now make this much easier to deal with than it was ten years ago.” These things I heard from doctors and family. Words of comfort, calculated to inspire hope, but ultimately, the strength to fight the battle against an internally destructive enemy must come from within.
As a senior in high school, I was diagnosed with Type I or “Juvenile” diabetes. Though this condition is usually discovered when the patient is much younger, I had been falling progressively into poorer health for a few months, and it came down to the discovery of my illness on a life changing day in February 2007.
Five and a half years earlier, in 2001, James “Rhio” O’Connor was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a cancer that affects soft tissues surrounding the internal organs. He was told he had less than a year to live, and he should get his affairs in order. Not content with this recommendation, Mr. O’Connor determined to beat the odds. He came up with a plan that would see him through nearly eight more years of life. Seven years longer than he was told. He passed away in July 2009, but not before writing a book titled “They Said Months, I Chose Years: A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story.” His example in dealing with a difficult form of cancer has been inspirational to many of his family, peers, and countless others. (To learn more about mesothelioma, see www.survivingmesothelioma.com)
Although, my diagnosis was not exactly the same as the cancer that eventually took James O’Connor’s life, there are certain parallels that are applicable to anyone who faces a life changing, and perhaps life threatening prognosis. My prognosis did not come with a terminal number of months attached, yet I hope my discoveries and views on dealing with a lifelong health challenge will help others find the strength within them to fight on in any difficulties that may come attached to this journey we call life.
Principle one: There are always more options. Any view and any recommendation you can get from a person comes from just that person. Doctors run clinics and advise treatments, but there is a good reason it is called a “practice.” Work to discover options, talk to people who have had similar experience, but realize, what works for one person does not always work for everyone. As you study and learn from other people’s experience, you will be able more objectively to find a course of action that suits your needs. What may be considered by many to be a limitation, can present an opportunity to become strong in a way that most people will never know or understand.
Principle two: Knowledge is power. This idea is closely related to principle one, but distinct for the reason that instead of options and opinions, now we are talking about fact. Gather information about your illness from every source you can. Books are available to everyone. Find out what causes your ailment. Find out what makes it worse. Find out what makes it better. For many illnesses, especially cancers, nutrition makes an incredible impact on the effectiveness of various treatments. For treatment options and beyond, get the information that will help you make an intelligent decision.
Unfortunately, many cancer patients go through painful and destructive treatments with little hope of success because they simply do not understand what these treatments are designed to do. Sometimes radiation or chemotherapy can yield great results, sometimes surgery is a good option. But each has limitations and knowing what these are will be an asset in decision making. Life is valuable. The last thing you want to do is to waste time or strength unnecessarily because you just didn’t know. Mr. O’Connor devised his own individualized treatment plan after searching and learning. His belief that his situation could be improved fueled his search. Ultimately, understanding his situation allowed him to do much good for many years beyond what was originally thought possible.
Principle three: Decide what is important. My greatest realization that has come as a result of my own diagnosis is that life is a gift. There’s no point in spending time on things that will not bring you happiness. There is happiness in family. There is happiness in serving others. There is happiness in building, in accomplishing something, accomplishing anything. Do not live with regrets. Once you realize what will make you happy, pursue it. Pursue your dreams with love, hope, and courage in your heart.
The greatest fulfillment may come to your life after you realize that there may not be much time left. When a life altering difficulty hits, we must make our own decision about whether our life will be altered for better or worse. The biggest decision on treatment for any ailment is how to treat the situation. We can have courage and optimism, which will allow us to live our lives to the fullest, with or without a life threatening illness. We cannot choose what happens to us. But Rhio O’Connor chose how he would react to a difficult scenario. The courage he showed in defying the odds is an example for me. I will choose to live life to the fullest. Whether I have fifty more years or fifty more days, I can make sure my time is used wisely.
I wish I had known these things years ago. I languished for a short time in despair, knowing life would never be the same. But it didn’t take long to realize that my poor attitude wasn’t going to help me very much. I am now a sophomore student at Brigham Young University in Utah. I am well and healthy because of a positive lifestyle. I have adjusted my diet and I exercise regularly. This weekend I plan to run in a fundraising race for a friend living in my apartment complex who was recently diagnosed with cancer. I know I can make a positive impact in the world, and despite what may be considered a physical limitation, I am determined to make my contribution.
I plead with you also to make your contribution in the world.