“You have cancer,” the three words everyone fears, and my doctor was saying them to me. A million thoughts started running through my head: “no,” “it can’t be,” and “that’s impossible!” The reason for my visit was an irregular heart beat at my last physical, so how could it be cancer? The other doctor had suspected a murmur! I had experienced the struggles with cancer before. Several of my family members had been through it, and my grandfather’s recent struggle with lymphoma ending in an untimely death was the first thing that came to mind. I could not being going through the same thing; the doctor was wrong. However, all I could muster to the doctor was a dazed and confused, “what?” His response was sympathetic, “you have a rare and deadly form of cancer known as mesothelioma.” All of a sudden it was like I woke up from a deep stupor and his words finally registered: I was going to die. I wanted to know everything I could so I began to ask him questions: “what should I do,” “are there treatments available,” and “how much time do I really have?” It turned out that he was no specialist and the best he could do was to refer me to an oncologist, who could not meet with me until the following week.
The lack of enthusiasm of the doctor acted as a motivator for me as I got home. The first thing I did was rush to my computer to learn more about the disease that had invaded my body and see if there was anyone who had survived this type of cancer. I went to google.com and searched “mesothelioma.” My search turned up a website called www.SurvivingMesothelioma.com. The site had several links for people who had been diagnosed with the cancer. I found that mesothelioma was cancer of the mesothelium, which is a membrane that surrounds the organs in the body. It produces fluid to allow organs like the heart and lungs to move freely. Different organs have special names for their surrounding mesothelium. This type of cancer can spread quickly and is usually linked to exposure to asbestos, though the exposure can occur up to 50 years before symptoms of the cancer begin.
The google search also turned up some interesting information about a man named James “Rhio” O’Connor. He too had been diagnosed with mesothelioma, and was give only a year to live. He was 61 at the time, was unable to have surgery or chemotherapy, and his doctors had a grim outlook. I was encouraged to see that like I had, he also actively searched for information about the cancer. Through his careful research efforts, O’Connor had managed to outlive his diagnoses by more than seven years. He used supplements, a new diet, mind-body medicine, and self discipline to fight the cancer. There was hope.
The next day I called the doctor who had diagnosed me and asked him to send my reports to several other doctors. The first thing I had to know was that the diagnoses was correct. Little by little, I heard back from the doctors I had sent the reports to. As each of them called back, it was confirmed. I asked each of them what the next step was, and what their hospitals offered for treatment. Because of the location of the cancer, in the pericardium (the mesothelium which surrounds the heart), and my age (19) the majority of the doctors agreed that surgery was the best option at this time. The cancer was localized; it had not spread yet, as far as they could tell from the scans. I decided to go ahead with the surgery, but to also follow a new dietary regime and other alternative medicine. The surgery would be in three weeks, and I was anxious to get started on my alternative practices.
As I woke from the surgery, my family surrounded me and the doctors were called. The outlook is always good when the doctor enters with a smile. “We got it all,” the doctor claimed, “you can go home in a few days.” While relieved that they thought they had removed all of the cancerous cells from my body, my motivation to pursue the same path as O’Connor was not diminished. Within a week from getting home from the hospital, I developed a strict schedule and with the help of my fiancé, was able to follow it alongside the modern remedies the hospital offered me. Weeks later I began radiation treatments in order to guarantee any missed cancer cells were killed.
Nearly a year later, the doctors have declared that I am in remission. However, this has not changed my practices. I believe that if I continue to follow the schedule I have created, I can remain in remission and live to get married, have children, and maybe someday have grandchildren. These have always been my dreams, and through James “Rhio” O’Connor’s example, they are still possible. In many ways I feel that I owe my life to his courage and persistence. Without him, I may have given up and been unable to share my story.