Keighley, Julia | Surviving Mesothelioma

Keighley, Julia

Selectivity, Schooling and Spirit

Rhio O’Connor managed to survive far beyond his prognosis with a disease known to have one of the largest death tolls today: cancer. Despite being given a short window for his estimated time to live, he persevered and educated himself regarding his “incurable” condition. Rhio’s cancer was nothing less than intense and rare, just like his pursuit to manage his diagnosis. He was affected by mesothelioma, a cancer damaging the lining of our internal organs called the mesolithium from which it gets its name. This particular type of cancer may occur in the lining of the heart, lung, or abdominal cavity. A cause that has been linked to this cancer, and that manifested in Rhio, is exposure to asbestos, however, there are not other definite causes.1 With greater education comes greater understanding, and greater motivation to understand something makes us more receptive to our intuitions and inner voices, a principle which Mr. O’Connor surely followed.

Rhio’s story inspires me most in my role as a scientist, yet he also motivates me in my future role as an educator. I am furthermore deeply inspired as a spiritual individual. On the surface, my nature to meticulously follow procedures in my scientific efforts would seem to come in handy when researching treatment options. On the other hand, there is an extremely emotional aspect involved in receiving a cancer diagnosis. Rhio’s experience is particularly admirable because he did not let his feelings interfere with his determination to successfully approach the information available to him in a systematic and scrutinizing manner. This was a great strength to him as he decided to move on with treatment and make the best possible selections regarding who would manage his care and influence the resolutions he made. I have extensive experience starting experiments, expecting certain results, and finding something different. On the contrary, Rhio took an approach that involved making little to no assumptions in order to arrive at the best conclusions; I would take a similar approach if given his diagnosis. More options are available for treatment of mesothelioma than in the past, but these treatments bring questions about outcomes, such as how effective are chemotherapy drugs? Clinical trials and experimental therapies still remain possibilities, and sometimes in the emotional turmoil of a devastating diagnosis, people are quick to take the risk involved with one of these treatments.

Mr. O’Connor took a more methodical and calculated approach to the risk, which led to a positive result that was beyond any predictions that possibly could have been made. His fact based process of informed consent was very unique for a patient in his position and further contributes to the way I relate to him as a scientist. In this manner, I would move through the available possible treatment options without being biased. By taking a step by step approach, I would make sure not to miss any information and look at any evidence, including statistical success rates. Thus, I greatly admire Rhio for his honed scientific approach and evaluation skills.

In addition to being a scientist, a role I hope to fulfill in the future is an educator. I look forward to the opportunity to be a professor, though I believe I would also like to work with younger kids as a mentor and help guide them to make the right choices in their lives. Mr. O’Connor is an ideal model for how an educator should approach teaching and also a model of a fantastic pupil. His intensive research took great diligence in not getting overwhelmed with too much information and being able to organize it in a manner which made sense to him. He also took an investigative approach to his learning. Instead of only relying on one source, I would make sure to consult survivors, researchers and physicians so that I understood my situation from multiple perspectives, just as Rhio did. This is similar to the way I have worked to write many research papers including my continuing work on my honors thesis in neuroscience and psychology. By expanding his knowledge on the available therapies, he entered into the realm of theories and philosophies. Since I value this type of information and the student-teacher relationship, I would definitely turn to the teachers I know best for help. These are things I hope to communicate to my students when I take on the role of a teacher. Beyond just surface facts, I believe it is important for students to understand the underlying doctrines that direct our actions. Rhio also used creative thinking to design his own treatment protocol, and this type of thinking is essential to being a successful student. I have used this skill in my leadership roles as a member of various student groups in order to attract volunteers and get my fellow members excited about events. It often takes thinking outside of one’s comfort zone and usual routine in order to do exceptional things.

These intellectual qualities are extremely admirable and something I value highly, yet I know spirit also keeps me invigorated and seems to have given Mr. O’Connor an extra push to live. It takes great faith to believe in doctors and the power of medicine, but it takes even more to believe in something bigger than oneself. In my own experience with surgery, it is easy to feel helpless and that the body is a frail vehicle. Working through the pain and remaining optimistic is the biggest challenge, but it lifts up those around you and gives you the momentum you need to keep moving forward. I believe that Rhio generated power in deciding one year of life was not enough and this will of the mind enabled him to continue his mission to learn more and live longer. I believe I would take a similar approach in keeping a positive will and meditating on the treatments proposed to me until I felt internal agreement on a course of action. Without acknowledging this guiding spirit within me I would not feel comfortable moving forward. A huge part of my spirit is my twin brother, Ian. I would take his wisdom and advice into special consideration when making decisions because we connect on such a deep level. Since we grew up together and shared almost all of each other’s experiences, he would contribute to this part of my life and help me remain focused on the positive. My nuclear family in general would be essential to my progress and recovery because they have helped me develop my individual spirit and personality into what it is today.

Rhio O’Connor was certainly not a unidimensional person, as demonstrated by his active pursuit of the best treatment for his terminal cancer, mesothelioma. Rhio’s rigor in the challenges he faced is outstandingly admirable, and his methods touch me personally due to the roles I currently fulfill and those that I hope to pursue in the future. I am inspired as a research scientist due to the interviews he conducted with multiple parties and the protocol he uniquely designed. I am inspired as a student and future teacher by the time Rhio spent in the library thinking innovatively while using many resources. I am further inspired as a spirited human being by Mr. O’Connor’s optimism and trust in a greater plan. Whether viewed as a leader, role model or example, Rhio embraced the world as his teacher and lived to see the good in his situation by making gratitude for each and every day his practice.

Works Cited 1. Cancer Monthly, Inc. “Mesothelioma Basics. ” https://survivingmesothelioma.com/basics.cfm. 2009.

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