James “Rhio” O’Connor outlived a prognosis for malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that affects the protective membrane which covers most of the body’s internal organs. He was given a year to live. He surpassed that by more than six years, and he did this by researching mesothelioma intensively and working with clinicians to create a tailored therapy, drawing from many sources and disciplines. His indefatigable spirit, optimism and belief that he was part of something greater than himself alone contributed significantly to prolonging his life – and to living it fully.
Rhio’s story is a wake-up call, an inspiration, and a testament to the resilience and phenomenal acts of courage that we are capable of. I believe there is a gestalt of health at work here, where each component is linked with the others. There is also hope, and an antidote to fear. Reading about Rhio and the information and facts through the Cancer Monthly’s website on mesothelioma was a life-affirming experience for me.
Even though it is not very likely for me to be afflicted by mesothelioma, which is associated with prolonged asbestos exposure, fear and the prevalence of cancer is woven into the fabric of our culture, society, and aggregate lives. For a few paragraphs I’m going to explore my response to a potential future where I am diagnosed with a form of malignant cancer; what steps I would take to inform and educate myself; and how I might generally cope.
I want first to underscore my belief and experience that a life lived in a supportive, sane and vibrant community is imperative for health, and that emotional, mental, and physical health are interconnected and interdependent. It is possible and advantageous to treat various maladies in a focused and even aggressive manner that includes Western medicine, relying more heavily on one form of treatment for a short or long time. I think it’s a mistake to discount the very real healing properties of robust relationships of any caliber – and this includes the relationship we develop with ourselves.
My mother died of lung cancer at the relatively young age of 63. She was either estranged from most of her family, or avoided contact and lived much of her life in relative isolation with very few healthy intimate relationships; in fact, I do not know if she ever experienced a healthy peer relationship. She had no close friends. I heard her talk about herself disparagingly. I grieve for the young girl and the woman she could have been if her life had been different, filled with family, community, and genuine sustained connection, as I know she yearned for. There is no empirical proof that she would not have succumbed to cancer if she had been engaged with community and inhabiting healthy relationships. I do believe she would have experienced less physical, emotional and psychological pain and that her passage into death would have been more peaceful. I think she would have felt more empowered in general.
The friendships I’ve formed are a great boon to my health. I know that people who give and receive love, time, energy, appreciation and a thousand other little human things are prone to living longer and more vibrantly. If I was diagnosed with cancer, I would be supported by friends and community and I would start talking to everyone I know – because everyone I know, knows something or someone: it’s a huge web of information. I’d seek out counseling from people I’ve already been helped by, as well as those who are practiced in assisting people who are diagnosed with cancer.
I’m fortunate to live in a city where alternative and non-traditional therapies are readily available and widely practiced. In Eugene, there are an abundance of practitioners in the fields of homeopathy, acupressure, acupuncture, nutrition and various spiritual path. I’ve availed myself of many at one time or another, for various reasons, with positive and encouraging results. If I was diagnosed with cancer I would investigate as many alternatives as possible, consulting with laypeople and licensed practitioners alike, in the fields of Western and non-Western medicine.
I’m also pretty fortunate to live in a city where fresh organic produce is available (including my own garden). I am a staunch advocate of nutritional healing, and nutrition as preventative care too. I’d definitely augment and adjust my diet if I was diagnosed with cancer, which wouldn’t be difficult at all since I already eat whole organic foods, not much sugar, rarely anything processed and have educated myself on nutrition for years.
Here are a few bites I think are exciting about foods and health:
Kombucha – Grown from a culture and made into a tea, this self-propagating ‘mushroom pancake’ has been around for centuries and used to treat a wide spectrum of imbalances. It’s effective because it is probiotic, catalyzes the body to detoxify and supports the immune system, liver, cell integrity, digestion.
Spirulina – Antioxidant, stimulates immune system and enhances the bodies ability to generate new blood cells, and very rich in beta-carotene which is proven to protect against cancer.
Bee Pollen – A myriad of studies link bee pollen ingestion to cancer prevention; it’s one of the most complete natural foods on the planet and people who eat it always experience increased energy, stamina and good health.
Sprouted and raw foods – Sprouted (germinated) seeds and nuts boost the immune system and act as detoxifiers. They are a powerhouse of nutrition and are complete proteins (did you know that during WWII when there was great concern over meat shortage, scientists advised the government that eating sprouted foods would provide the necessary nutrition instead? The cost to the environment and the pocketbook is markedly less too). Raw and sprouted foods contain digestive enzymes, which means that the body doesn’t need to manufacture its own, a process which ages and weakens us.
For further edification on the moral, emotional and educational fronts, I would consult at length with people I know who are survivors of cancer and listen to their stories. I’d find support groups. I’d read a variety of literature; I would become a student to whoever would teach me what they know or have experienced as helpful for coping with the physical, mental, and emotional effects of cancer. I think that being proactive in my own life counts immeasurably towards the quality of life I live. I believe there is a connection between what we think and how it manifests in the body. I also believe that feeding myself with a broad spectrum of information as it applies to cancer as well as spiritual, psychological and social needs enhances immunity, dispels fear and creates positive momentum.
Over the last year I’ve put attention on my breath. I’ve become more conscious about how much tension I hold in my body, and how I can let it go. I’ve also placed more attention on what I am saying and thinking. A lot of it is habituated chatter, and negative! Although I’m already ‘enrolled’ in my own little program of slowing down, paying attention, and consciously altering my thoughts, being diagnosed with cancer would most likely catalyze greater effort towards meditation and bio-feedback practices (interspersed with a lot of freaking out, crying, and breathing into paper bags).
I know from experience that when I attune myself to my breath and breathe deeply from my gut and my lungs, I loosen up and feel tension release. How much more beneficial would a more concerted, ongoing meditation or other similar practice be? Probably pretty beneficial since my efforts thus far have been successful. At the very least, a measure of internal calm and awareness on the present moment could be cultivated.
In conclusion, I would like to say that reading about James O’Connor and his life reminds me how important it is to build a comprehensive approach to living and avail one’s self of many points of view, opinions, and support. Certainly when one is faced with the herculean challenge of being diagnosed and living with cancer it can precipitate a huge grieving and learning process, along with an opportunity to evaluate many things. I am reminded that there are beacons like James, and we all can serve one another by supporting each others choices and rewriting the scripts that are handed to us.