My life was shattered last November 2008 when my grandmother was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. Surgery wasn’t an option and she was given a prognosis of 4 months to live. She may have been the oldest living relative in our family at 78, but she was also the healthiest, so if she could get cancer, anyone could. I immediately started researching all I could about Pancreatic Cancer and I was devastated by what I found. With a 1 year survival rate of just 20% and a five year survival rate of 5%, it is the deadliest of all cancers. I became inspired.
I read stories like that of James “Rhio” O’Connor. Rhio was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, which like pancreatic cancer has a dire 5 year survival rate of just 10% and a prognosis of less than 1 year from the time of diagnosis. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that affects the mesothelium*, causing the cells to divide rapidly and thus thickening the membrane, causing fluid to build up and tumors to grow. Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. As asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested into the body they become lodged in the body’s cavities, causing inflammation or infection. Symptoms of Mesothelioma often do not appear for 20 to 50 years after initial exposure to asbestos and asbestos exposure of as little as a few months is enough to cause this cancer to develop later in life. Today approximately 2000-3000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the US, comprising approximately 3% of all cancer diagnoses. Like all cancers, traditional treatment options are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation only. Although most cancer treatment centers do provide a nutritionist, their focus is on how to get the patient to consume as many calories as possible and in doing so they recommend many high fat and carbohydrate/sugar rich foods to do so. As I am sure Rhio found out, this is not the best option.
Rhio’s story is an inspiration in that he refused to take a death sentence and took his life into his own hands and researched his options and as a result he succeeded. It is heartbreaking to learn that Rhio’s form of cancer, Mesothelioma, was caused by work exposure to asbestos many years ago and that his cancer could have been prevented. My heart goes out to his family. Rhio thought outside of the box and he had faith in his own intellect and in a higher power to guide him to research and understand all there was to offer about his disease and treatment options. He sought out alternative paths to therapy and he spoke to every doctor, patient, and individual who would listen. He chose to live life and in doing so he lives on as he continues to inspire others.
After reading stories like Rhio’s, I knew that I had to take action. So I bought a plane ticket back home to the US, leaving my husband behind in Germany to follow me at a later date, because I knew my grandmother was going to have a difficult road ahead and that she would need a caretaker by her side 24/7. There wasn’t any time to waist. Every minute, every moment of every day became precious and valuable time. I felt as if it was my own diagnosis.
It is my deep regret that time simply was not on our side. The cancer grew too rapidly and my grandmother passed away 4 months to the day of her diagnosis on March 6, 2009. But my journey didn’t end there. A fire had been lit under me and I made the decision to learn all I could about the different forms of cancer in hopes of finding out how it can be prevented and what sorts of alternative therapy can be done to prevent its spread and even find a cure. There is so much research being done, but there is still so much that is unknown. I want to discover the unknown. So last spring I returned to school as a postbac student and I am currently studying Nutrition Science. I am also working with a Professor at OSU and the Linus Pauling Institute, who has done research studies previously with the National Cancer Institute, and he has taken me under his wing to learn more about how to conduct a research project.
I live every day with her diagnosis. It fuels my passion to learn, succeed, and live life to the fullest today and every day. I see now that every day is a gift on this earth, a chance to learn and grow and experience new things. A chance to reach out to those you love and hold them close, a chance to be inspired and to inspire others. The power is within all of us but it is often drowned out by excuses such as; “I have too much going on right now, I’ll do it later.” The truth is, life is hard. There are always going to be challenges set in your way. It is how we choose to react to them that matters. We grow up and get into a routine and we spend our time on the immediate task in front of us and we lose sight of the big picture and of what is truly important. I have reprioritized my life. I put my family and friends first and I put my faith in a higher power to guide me when I get overwhelmed. I take better care of my health, making informed decisions on the nutrients I put in my body. I exercise on a regular basis and have taken an interest in yoga, tai chi, and meditation. I have sought out counseling and support groups to help work through my emotions and to bond with others that have gone through similar experiences. I look at the goals I have for my life and I see now that life is limited and there might not be a tomorrow to do the things I want to accomplish. So I do what I can today. I am now focusing my time and energy on studying something that I am passionate about and that will provide me with the tools to make a positive difference in the world. And when my time comes, I will be ready to let go, with no regrets and with my loved ones close at heart, because I will know with confidence that I lived life to the fullest and that I inspired others to do the same.