King, Daniel – Surviving Mesothelioma

King, Daniel

James Rhio O’Connor was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in October 2001 at age 61. Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that had been caused largely due to Rhio’s exposure to asbestos at a young age. Tragically for Rhio, the tumor was located right on his spinal chord, making surgery impossible and it was concluded that chemo, whilst reducing his quality of life would have little effect on his survival of the cancer.

Rhio’s doctor recommended that he take his wife on holiday, seek medical care and essentially prepare himself for his death. However, Rhio would not roll over and allow the cancer to kill him and so he began to search for his treatment, his saving grace. He spent countless hours reading book and journals, talking to doctors and researching his illness, treatments and even trialing drugs. By taking huge numbers of supplements and receiving treatment from a team of physicians who he selected, Rhio lived for over 7 more years, dying July 2009, aged 69.

To me, this is a true story of survival and belief and I hugely admire Rhio O’Connor for what he did. It is common practice to listen to your doctor, surgeon or any professional from whom you seek advice as they have done the training and have the qualifications to suggest what they advise you is correct. However, in an age where medicine is advancing faster than medical textbooks can be published, can we really rule out the chance of there being another means by which we could be cured?

As a biochemistry major in college, I have classes in which I am taught about the numerous advancements in genetics, toxicology, pharmacology, microbiology and many other “ologies” for that matter. Curiously, one of the constant themes in these discoveries is that they can often be related to possible advancements in cancer research. Therefore, I believe that Rhio O’Connor is an example fully worth following because with all of the ongoing advancements in oncology, there is always a chance that something new could work. Our world in the technological sense is advancing at an incredible rate and this makes resilience all the more beneficial. I think that Rhio’s story is a prime example of why not giving up can make such a huge difference. All forms of cancer, whether it be mesothelioma, breast cancer, liver cancer or one of the many other forms of cancer that plague our society, cause people to rollover, to assume that it is their end as these diseases have such a strong connotation of death. However, over the last few years this has not needed to be the case as advancements in drugs and other treatments are really amazing. I am a strong believer in the concept of drugs only working if the recipient believes they can be cured because it takes motivation and a positive outlook to really overcome a disease and live a life and James O’Connor was a fine example of this. He was adamant he would be cured and he fought to have his life as he wanted it, a remarkable display of resilience from an amazing man and I hope that his story may be told to many as an example of how belief and a personal drive to accomplish can cause such a huge difference, prolonging a life so that it may be enjoyed for longer with those closest to us.

I have some personal ties in cancer research as my father was recently diagnosed with lymphoma and is currently undergoing treatment. A year ago, my father was told that he required an operation and then definitely two, if not more rounds of chemotherapy in order to cure his cancer. However, my family was in financial trouble at the time and while his healthcare was covered, my father knew that his self-run business would suffer irreparably from such aggressive treatment. Therefore, my father and I were directed to the oncology unit at University Hospital, London, England to speak with the chief oncologist regarding other treatments. We were told that some new drugs had recently come onto the market and were in the process of trials and that there were still opportunities for patients who wished to begin a trial to do so. The drug was called Pralatrexate and is now close to being approved for full use by the FDA.

My father and I researched each of the possible clinical trials and found the drug that seemed to have the least impact upon a regular working schedule and my father began taking the drug. Six months later, my father’s course of the drug concluded and he went back into hospital so that the lymphoma could be examined again. The drug had worked wonders, my father’s cancer had greatly receded and the tumor was much smaller than when it was first diagnosed. Not only this, but he was told that one month of chemotherapy would most likely abolish the cancer for good which was a huge relief for my father both health wise and with regards to his business.

My point here is exactly what Rhio O’Connor was exhibiting; there are two options when it comes to a terminal illness, either it can take over you and slowly end your life, or you can fight back and either beat it, or enjoy what time you have left.

As far as I am concerned, I would do exactly what Rhio did. I would research my illness so I understood what was going on, I would consult several doctors because it is highly likely that different oncologists have different expertise and also know over different alternative treatments.

After my family circumstances, I began trying to push myself harder at college as my father’s condition warned me that life was not going to wait around for me and that I had to start creating my own opportunities. As if by fate, I discovered an opportunity to join a team of graduate researchers in the University of Miami Biochemistry department as their undergraduate researcher. The research I am involved in relates protein receptors that have been linked to breast cancer and other Her2 cancers. This opportunity was a sign to me and we are now at the stage where we may be able to publish our findings and save some confirmatory tests that we have to conduct, may provide an actual site to target a cures and preventatives of breast cancer. Cancer affects so many people and I don’t think there is anyone in the USA who hasn’t either been directly affected by cancer or who doesn’t know somebody who has been directly affected.

This terrible disease rocked my life and fortunately my father and I were able to overcome and defeat it. However, as my father told me, life will not wait around for solutions and opportunities to come your way, it is unforgiving and can be relentless at times. Therefore, I have taken steps to join the battle against a major threat to the lives of so many and I hope that my contribution in this field, however small it may be could perhaps contribute to the saving of lives in the future.

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