Lam, Debbie – Surviving Mesothelioma

Lam, Debbie

When someone is diagnosed with cancer everyone immediately thinks of death. I am not sure why this happens, maybe fear takes over and people just give up hope. I have always believed that life is worth living and that you are the only one in charge of your destiny. When you are given a situation that seems impossible you need to pick up the pieces and take charge of your future no matter what the odds are. This is why I find Rhio O’Connor’s story so inspiring. This is a man who was diagnosed with a fatal form of cancer and given a year to live. Instead of giving up and accepting his diagnosis he fought back and took charge of his fate. He went above and beyond the traditional treatments and outlived his prognosis by more than 6 years.

Rhio O’Connor was diagnosed with mesothelioma. This is a rare type of cancer that is more prevalent in men than women and all forms except for benign mesothelioma are fatal. Mesothelioma is an asbestos related cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, heart and abdomen. This is a cancer that is particularly difficult to diagnose and does not respond well to therapy. The effects of mesothelioma can be debilitating and painful to live with. Patients generally are short of breath, may experience difficulty swallowing, or have a persistent cough, fever, weight loss or fatigue. Patients also must deal with muscle weakness, loss of sensory capability, coughing up blood, facial and arm swelling and hoarseness. These symptoms alone would be enough to make most people want to curl up in a corner and give up all hope.

I am a CT (cat scan) technologist by trade and I work with cancer patients all the time. I am always inspired by the bravery and courage that they display. Some patients are talkative and happy while others are quiet and reserved. However, they all have one thing in common and that is fear. They fear not knowing if their test will show improvement or if it will show progression of their disease. I always try to show them empathy and not sympathy. They don’t want you to feel sorry for them; they want you to treat with compassion and professionalism.

I have occasionally thought about what I would do if I were diagnosed with cancer and I always come up with the same answer, fight. I believe I would have the same thought process that Mr. O’Connor had which is don’t take no for an answer and believe in your inner strength. I would first start by researching my cancer and collecting as much information as possible. Education is a valuable tool and information is at our finger tips with the use of the internet. I would seek out advice from physicians all over the world and try to find the top experts on my cancer to talk to. I would also seek out other patients with the same cancer and discuss with them the treatments that they are using. Talking with other patients facing the same struggle that you are is also good for your mental health. I believe I would look beyond traditional medicine such as chemotherapy and radiation and investigate the possibilities of alternative medicine. I truly believe that the mind has something to do with healing the body and I would not be opposed to spiritual healing, acupuncture, magnet therapy or even dietary changes to heal my body. I would not stop until I found the answers that I was looking for I believe I owe that to myself and to my family.

If Mr. O’Connor were alive today I would thank him for inspiring people to look “outside” the box when it comes to their healthcare. Everyone needs to take charge of their own health. We all need to practice a healthier lifestyle and take responsibility for our health. When you are faced with a road block like cancer you need to face it head on and find your inner strength to help you conquer your fears. Mr. O’Connor did just that and he gained 6 years of life that others thought he would never have, he was truly a remarkable human being.

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