Kulczyski, Tonya | Surviving Mesothelioma

Kulczyski, Tonya

My Journey with Mesothelioma

Toward the end of a long summer filled with lazy days and late nights with the children we decided to plan our annual hiking trip so my husband and I could get in our last big adventure of the season before the cold set in. We booked a small cottage and decided to hike the Pocono Mountains. This would be the adventure we would tell our grandchildren about. After days of planning and making arrangements for the children, we headed out, excited to face the challenges that come along with forging through nature.

Upon arrival, we were taken aback by the vast beauty of our surroundings. We used the first day in our temporary home to acquaint ourselves with our surroundings, and familiarize ourselves with the area. As day two approached, we woke up early to enjoy the tranquility of the mountains and all the little creatures that called them home. The birds were singing their happy songs, we saw squirrels and chipmunks and all was right with the world. As my husband mapped out which trails we would take that day, I was busy packing more than enough food and drinks to carry us (and maybe even a few of those cute little creatures) through the day.

Arriving at our first destination, my husband and I were both eager and exhilarated. He had planned a hike that would take us approximately five hours to complete, which was something we had done many times before. This time would be different, although neither of us knew it at that point, my body would soon let me know that this trip would be too much to handle.

About two and a half hours into our hike, I became fatigued, and so my husband and I took this time to rest and refuel our bodies. I blamed the fatigue on a late night and was determined to push through. But soon enough I realized that I was uncharacteristically out of breath, and that I had no choice but to rest again. Not wanting to disappoint my husband, I quickly got back onto the trail. We completed the hike that day, although it took us nearly 8 hours to conquer. The remaining days of our trip would prove to be a repeat of the first.

Back home, and exhausted still, I decided to make an appointment with my family doctor. Refusing to tell me anything, he sent me to see a specialist and demanded that I go as soon as possible. Secretly afraid for my life, I immediately made the appointment. It was 2:45 p.m. on June 22, 2009, that I was diagnosed with cancer. To be more specific, it was Mesothelioma, and it was in my lungs. Sure, the doctor took his time explaining what this was and what was going to happen to my body, but it is hard to fully ponder someone’s words only minutes after hearing that you are in all probability going to die.

I asked everyone who could hear me questions, yet I was left without any honest answers for weeks. It seemed nobody wanted to give me the cold hard truth. I realized it was up to me to seek the answers I was so afraid to hear. I went home that afternoon, and like any other person determined to defeat cancer, I immediately began conducting research. This is where I came across the story of James “Rhio” O’Connor. It is the account of a man who proved everyone wrong by outliving his prognosis of Mesothelioma. This was the story of a man who was determined to live. Mr. O’Connor taught me that you don’t just have to lie down and die, even with such a horrible diagnosis. You can make choices for yourself rather than taking the next available treatment. I read medical journals from the University of Michigan (and others) in order to better inform myself on current as well as experimental procedures. I also followed the advice of Mr. O’Connor and began a journey to find out which foods would benefit my health.

About three months after my diagnosis, I realized that my herbal remedies and healthy diet weren’t going to be enough to make this cancer go away or even slow it’s deterioration on my body, so I began to entertain the idea of radiation. Perhaps the cancer could be depleted. Maybe, just maybe, I would defeat this and go back to taking those annual hiking trips with my husband. I recruited anyone that I thought would help me make informed decisions. I asked colleges, friends and family. I also joined every support group I could find—online and around the community. When my body allows, I still spend hour upon hour at the University of Michigan research library searching for every little morsel of hope and or potential remedy. It has been four years since my diagnosis; and while I may still carry cancer in my body, I also carry with me an enormous amount of faith that in God any thing is possible. Even if there is no guarantee, there is at least always hope to carry me through those sleepless nights. This cancer will not get the best of me, and my family and I will be out hitting the trails once again.

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