The human body is the complex and mysterious home to our equally remarkable spirit. Although science has evolved leaps and bounds over the last several decades, there are still many aspects of the human body that remain a mystery, far beyond the realm of our current understanding. As we expand our knowledge of health and well being, it becomes unmistakably clear that the mind and body are one interacting, interlocking, networked system. The strength of each entity and the bond between the two can largely determine one’s quality of life, both mentally and physically.
Rhio O’Conner was an example of a remarkable spirit, living in a house with an unstable foundation; a foundation that was compromised due to exposure to asbestos as a child. When O’Conner was 61 years old, he was diagnosed with Mesothelioma; an aggressive cancer of the protective lining of most internal organs directly linked to the asbestos exposure. According to survivingmesothelioma.com, a remarkable source for all valuable information on the latest cancer treatments and resources, the average survival rate of Mesothelioma is 4-18 months. Mr. O’Conner’s prognosis was less than a year to live. His doctor encouraged him to take a final vacation with his wife and begin hospice care upon his return in preparation for death.
However, Rhio was lucky. His spirit was armed with the virtues of a survivor. He was confident, courageous, optimistic, resourceful, and understood the importance of the essential mind-body connection. His determination not to be a victim of circumstance allowed him to veer off the path that was being laid in front of him and gave him the power to create change. Instead, O’Conner demonstrated the courage to take responsibility for his reaction to the circumstances of his own life and, as a result, he was empowered and in control. By researching his options and formulating a holistic treatment, he managed to live 7 ½ momentous years beyond the day of his dismal prognosis. Mr. O’Conner’s holistic plan included various alternative remedies such as taking supplements, focusing on nutrition, and employing mind-body medicine. As Rhio O’Conner proved, the ability to transform today’s pain into tomorrows wisdom is the real key to new human discovery. I am both humbled and inspired by his spirit and fortitude.
In my pursuit of studying nutritional science at the University of Wisconsin, and as someone who also wants to beget change, I feel compelled to resist accepting the idea that all cancers and diseases are just the “luck of the draw.” I will use O’Conner as my inspiration to empower others to regain control of their lives by employing preventative measures. According to the National Cancer Institute, as much as 80 percent of all cancers are due to identified factors, therefore are potentially avoidable. Of this 80 percent, thirty percent of cases are due to tobacco use and as much as 50 percent of cases are due to inadequate nutrition. I plan to educate as many people as I can on the healing power of nature’s medicine cabinet, real food. I am determined to find a way to spread the word that nutrition matters. What we are eating and what we are not eating can have such an immense impact on our health, it is an understatement to say that we should start paying attention today.
I am awe inspired by the complexities and powers of nature’s food. With each new scientific discovery, I am encouraged by what nature is offering us. We may not have all the answers, or even be close to understanding the exact formula for cures to certain illnesses and disease, but I have hope that they exist and are more available to us than we know. Through persistent trial and error, who knows what we could discover? The website survivingmesothelioma.com has already posted several articles with promising evidence of the healing and preventative powers of food. For instance an article posted in June 2009, gave evidence that the Noni fruit may contribute to the prevention and healing of lung cancer. Also, an article posted in April 2009, said “Premenopausal women who ate two or more servings of carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables a day (especially foods high in the carotenoids alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein/zeaxanthin, and vitamin A) had a 17 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who ate fewer than four servings a week.” In addition, an article posted in March 2009 revealed a new study in the journal “Nutrition and Cancer” found that the white button mushroom is particularly effective against prostate cancer. Furthermore, the American Cancer Society has recommended eating broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and other foods that contain sulphur compounds to combat breast cancer. The ACS also boasts the cancer-fighting agents in onions, garlic, and other alliums. Beyond this, these studies offer evidence that cancer is less prevalent in those who consume more fish and other whole foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and less refined sugars, alcohol, and processed foods.
I am intrigued by the value and healing power of all the foods that grow in our gardens and seas. Yet, as the food industry attempts to capitalize on the value of essential vitamins and nutrients that are found in foods we eat, slapping health claims on “omega-3” cookies and “high-fiber” doughnuts, we are left confused, uninformed, and undernourished. I aspire to inform misguided communities on the ultimate healing powers of whole foods when they are left in their natural form. For example, I hope to help stop ad gimmicks that processed or “refined” food companies are using to trick consumers into buying calcium-enriched cereals, when the surest way to absorb, and consequently benefit from, calcium is to consume it in its natural form such as spinach, quinoa, or milk. Breast milk, which is often referred to as the perfect food, has yet to be matched by the scientists who work for commercial formula companies There is evidence that breastfed babies are experiencing fewer incidences of infections, allergies, asthma, diabetes, obesity, SIDS and digestive complications. This indicates that the combinations of whole foods found in breast milk are just too complex and indecipherable to manufacture.
Another crucial part of Rhio O’Conner’s ability to flourish was his instinct to take a more holistic approach, focusing on both body and mind to heal. We have often heard the expression that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts; this is true of us as people as well. In the pursuit of optimal health, we would be doing ourselves a disservice by separating the mind from the body. There is a strong link between our mental and physical health that cannot be ignored. If we are broken down mentally, often clues and symptoms of an imbalance will manifest as physical conditions. In contrast, if our physical health is compromised it can profoundly affect our spirit. Depression, as an example, can unsuspectingly be a result of a vitamin deficiency. Years of psychoanalysis or therapy will not reverse an omega-3-fatty-acid deficiency, a lack of vitamin B12, a low-functioning thyroid, or chronic mercury toxicity. It is up to us to analyze all of the clues our entire self, as a whole, is offering to us and devise a strategy for healing entirely.
In 2008 O’Conner wrote: “They said months. I choose years!” I would argue that Rhio chose more than years, for his determined spirit will live on in all of us who encounter his tale for countless generations to come. His courage to educate himself and others has led to immeasurable discoveries that will undoubtedly change the future. Mr. O’Conner has taught me the importance of viewing problems as opportunities; opportunities for change and growth. I am greatly indebted to him for his insight and inspiration and since I cannot pay Mr. O’Conner back directly, with my degree in dietetics from the university of Wisconsin, I plan to use O’Conner’s story to encourage change and growth in an many lives as I can touch; a humble attempt at “paying it forward.”