Reading the story of James “Rhio” O’Connor and his strategy to overcome a rare type of cancer, mesothelioma, truly caught my attention. Mr. O’Connor was diagnosed with an incurable illness, and yet he outsmarted the doctors and statistics to live far longer than anyone thought possible for a man in his condition. My heart sank when I read Mr. O’Connor’s story because an almost identical situation came upon my family, almost two years ago, when my 83 year-old grandmother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer that spread to her liver. For those of you who don’t know, there are four stages of cancer at which the end result is typically death. Some of the best surgeons in the country refused to operate on her and oncologists would not aggressively treat her because they “knew” she would die.
Of course it was a heart-wrenching time for all of us, but we wasted little time with our emotions. It was all work from the moment the doctor told us the prognosis. Doctor after doctor told us the “best they could do” was administer enough pain medication to allow her to live comfortably for her final weeks of life. Clearly, this just wasn’t enough. Her 19 grandchildren were not going to stand and watch their grandma wither away. Time was running out. Luckily, I have an abnormally large family, which allowed us to prioritize and divide tasks to find the key to the miracle that would save her. My aunt and uncle did extensive research. My dad developed a protocol for staging the surgeries, chemotherapy routines, and nutrition regiment – all the way down to finding an experienced, confident surgeon at a hospital a few states away. My four brothers and I visited her and kept her spirits up. Each person of our family played a role in her healing.
After days of nonstop researching, praying, and communicating with others who suffered from similar illnesses as well as doctors, physicians, and medical experts from all over the country, we were able to select the exact surgery she needed and choose the most appropriate surgeon for the task. We also worked to develop an action plan that fit her needs exactly – from fasting before chemotherapy to increase its effectiveness and reduce its side effects, to keeping a feeding tube in longer than the doctors advised, which allowed her to retain more nutrients and heal more quickly. My grandma overcame the impossible. She bounced back faster than anyone expected, especially for a person her age. After her last surgery nearly 14 months ago to remove 60% of her liver, the scans found no signs of cancer. The doctors had been wrong. The reason she is alive today is because of the plan that many people worked together to implement.
The whole truth is that if I were diagnosed with an incurable illness, like my grandma was, I expect to be able to take the same steps that we did for my grandma because miracles are possible and the skills and abilities are out there to make the impossible possible. The key is overcoming the odds through intense research, communication with numerous sources, and faith. Like Mr. O’Connor, my grandma was diagnosed with an incurable illness and like Mr. O’Connor, she surpassed the doctors’ wildest expectations.
The doctors that had refused to treat her, that had refused to perform surgery, and that had no faith in her living beyond a couple of weeks, are amazed that she is still alive months after they had predicted. My grandma is still chugging today. In fact, she just returned from her eldest son’s wedding in Taiwan last week. We are already making plans for her 84th birthday this summer. I wonder who will be making her favorite chocolate cake this year and if she will be able to resist sneaking a peak at her birthday presents.
I am extremely fortunate to still have my grandma in my life, but I know others are not as privileged. I encourage everyone who is diagnosed with a terminal illness to look for their miracle because it is out there. Even though the game of finding a cure is tricky and difficult, I think Mr. O’Connor and my grandma would both agree that the results are certainly worth it.