Every man dies, but not every man lives. ~William Wallace
Every day in America, hundreds of people are diagnosed with cancer. Since its discovery, cancer has claimed the lives of millions and has become a household name. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are over 200 forms of the disease. In 2009 alone, nearly 1.5 million Americans were diagnosed with some form cancer.1 First seen as a death sentence, research, development, and education have given the disease less power over its victims and given the general public a better outlook on how to treat, prevent and even handle its appearance in their lives. With so many forms of cancer known to man, the fight against the disease may seem like an uphill battle, but perseverance, faith, and patience are needed to handle the disease that seemingly does not discriminate based on race, religion or age.
The Roman poet Horace said, “adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.” Trials and difficulty are a normal part of life, but most of us will never hear the news that a fatal illness will take our lives from us far too soon. In 2001, James “Rhio” O’Conner received that news when he was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. Mesothelioma occurs in the mesothelium, the membrane that covers the internal organs of the body. When the cells that compose the membrane become abnormal and begin multiplying and dividing,cancer forms. Asbestos exposure is the most common cause of Mesothelioma. After receiving a ‘death sentence’ from his doctors, James decided that he wouldn’t let cancer end his life before he was ready. Given only a year to live, James began his mission to outlive the shortened life that Mesothelioma had handed him. He talked to doctors,patients, and researchers, on a mission to determine what could be done to help increase his chances of living a longer, healthier life. The perseverance, endurance, and tenacity exhibited by James after he received his diagnosis allowed him to turn the devastating news into a mission: prolonging his life and finding new ways to treat and handle the deadly disease, and in doing that, creating a new path for others who suffer from the disease.
In order to prepare for this essay, I had to ask myself, “What would I do if I received the news that cancer would take away my life before I was ready?” In reading James O’Conner’s story, it’s easy to say I would do what he did; that I would fight until the end, but honestly, it was extremely difficult to think about what I would do given the same situation. I would like to think that I would prepare myself for the battle ahead. Traditional cancer treatment generally consists of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Recent studies have determined that gender, race, and ethnicity can be a factor in the effectiveness of certain cancer treatments. Being a woman and a person of African descent, I would make it a mission to determine what treatments, if any, are most effective for me. With the help of the Internet, I would doggedly research the occurrences of the disease—who it effects, how if affects and what treatments have been most successful. I would contact health care professionals, both cancer knowledgeable and not, to seek any information and research conducted on other treatments for disorders of the mesothelium. I think a multi-step, multi-treatment, and multi-organizational approach would allow for greater opportunities in coming closer to finding a cure and a method for increasing the life span of Mesothelioma patients. Although it may be easier to accept the diagnosis and let the disease take its course, in taking a stand against the disease, you are making the next patient’s journey more hopeful and, hopefully, longer lasting.
In today’s society, cancer has affected— either directly or indirectly— nearly everyone. We hear the news that a friend or church member has the disease and we shake our heads and say a quick prayer, only to continue on about our day. It is very easy to say what I would do as I sit here cancer free, listening to my Ipod, sun streaming through the windows and typing this essay with a near perfect bill of health, but the truth is that Mesothelioma is an ugly disease. I only hope that if ever found in the same circumstances as James O’Conner, I would find the strength, tenacity, and pride in fighting a disease that many say is unstoppable.
1 American Cancer Society, Inc. 2009. Surveillance and Health Policy Research.