James “Rhio” O’ Connor was an inspirational fighter who chose to fight his mesothelioma rather than surrender to it. Mesothelioma, according to the National Cancer Institute is a “rare form of cancer in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the sac lining the chest (the pleura), the lining of the abdominal cavity (the peritoneum) or the lining around the heart (the pericardium)” (www.mesotheliomaweb.org). His personal experience with the disease came from exposure to asbestos that formed a malignant tumor that was too close to his lungs to be operable. Since this disease spreads through the cells that form the lining of various cavities, it is fast killer. Mr. O’Connor realized that he needed to educate himself on the best way to slow the disease down by combating it with a specialized diet. He chose to share his findings in his book, They Said Months, I Chose Years: A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story.
If I were faced with horrifying and scary diagnosis of year to live, I could not even imagine where to begin. As James O’Connor did with “Mr. Meso,” I would also take the proactive stand against my illness. Though many doctors have a high regard for their diagnosis, Mr. O’Connor realized that as a patient, he knew his body better than to just give up on it. As he was ready to fight, I would prepare myself for a grueling and difficult battle during which each day that I am alive would be a victory. A strong will to live goes a long way regarding a terminal illness. While I would hope that my illness could be treated by chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery but if those options were not options for me, I would begin researching other ways to improve my quality of life and mental health. To secure my physical strength, I would seek out nutrition and diet specialists for guidance on creating a diet specifically aimed at my new nutritional needs. My emotional strength would come from counseling and therapy. A terminal illness would be very taxing emotionally, so having someone to discuss my current state of being would bring about comfort and peace. In keeping with the importance of mental and emotion health, I believe spiritual health should also be a priority. Seeking guidance from the priest of my church would help me establish myself spiritually. I firmly believe in the power of prayer and the power of miracles. Having spiritual guidance throughout this journey would assist me in making the most of each day of life that I have been given. Mr. O’Connor believed in something bigger than himself. He knew there was more to the world than what you see around you. He used this as a way to find strength in himself and I would do the same.
James O’Connor understood the importance of a healthy diet, especially when the body was in a weakened state due to cancer. As a cancer patient, I would supplement my diet with important vitamins and minerals to keep my disease from depleting the nutrients in my body. I would be sure to take vitamin B-12 to keep myself energized, magnesium to ensure optimal absorption of potassium and calcium, and finally, omega-3 fish oils. Personally, I believe in not only healthy eating but in eating organically grown food. However, just because the label says organic does not mean that your produce is 100% pesticide free. In his book, Mr. O’Connor discusses that he learned the grocery store was spraying water containing chemicals on the produce to enhance its color. To solve this problem, he washed his produce in vinegar to remove the chemicals. While this is a good option, another alternative would be to buy produce at the local farmers market or join a food co-op, which guarantees freshness from pesticide. Free range chicken and beef are essential to increasing the overall health of a cancer patient. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that our chicken and beef are fed hormones and antibiotics to keep the animal healthy. However, these chemicals do nothing for you. I believe that there are benefits to eating hormone free meat as a cancer patient. Since cancer cells have hormone receptors, I do not think that increasing the amount of hormones in your body makes any sense. Free range meat allows for a healthy and beneficial consumption of protein.
Fighting to survive each day can really take a lot out of you. However, as an athlete I understand the importance of exercise for maintaining your physical and mental health. As a cancer patient, I would certainly take advantage of the days where I felt okay to enjoy some light exercise. A light walk around the neighborhood to enjoy the sunshine, the sunset, or even the snow would be a great way to get some exercise when you are not feeling 100 percent. Another option for exercise would be cycling. Though cycling can be a fairly intense sport, a leisurely bike ride with a friend or family member is a nice alternative to walking. Enjoying nature and the outdoors does wonders for your spiritual health and I believe exercise, especially when you’re sick, would be beneficial. Yoga is a is a light exercise that means that the body is still getting the benefits of a workout, without breaking the hard sweat that is often too fatiguing for someone who is ill. Yoga is often described as a very relaxing and low key way to stay healthy. As much a mental exercise as physical, I think that participating in a few yoga classes could really help improve the life of a cancer patient.
Nothing is more important than achieving mental and spiritual peace. If I were faced with death, it could be almost tempting to turn my back on my faith but the rational side of me realizes the importance of it. You cannot begin to truly fight a disease that is taking your life away without coming to terms with it. Once you have accepted the situation, you can move forward. However, without belief in my faith, there would be no way for me personally to come to grips with such an awful situation. First, I believe there is no better way to connect to the Lord spiritually than through prayer. With such a difficult journey to travel, I know that I would need constant prayer to get through each grueling day. Mass and worship would definitely remain an integral part of my life and would enhance my prayer life as well. Another way to comfort myself would be seek out both psychological and spiritual counseling, as I mentioned before. Seeking out the wise counsel of others can help to bring about a greater understanding of not only myself but of the world around me. Lastly, I could integrate my daily walks for exercise as a chance to improve my spiritual life. I feel closest to the Lord when I am enjoying the nature around me.
As a terminally ill patient, my life would have a greater purpose. The small things that are part of my daily existence would become integral memories of my life. While I hope that I will never have to face this situation, there is something to be said about living a life of purpose. With a whole new set of priorities, I know that the last battle I faced on this earth would be a life lived the way everyday should be- no regrets and memory filled. James “Rhio” O’Connor got to experience 7 years of life with a special purpose and he left that legacy behind for us to learn by.
For more information about the disease that took the life of Mr. O’Connor, please visit: www.survivingmesothelioma.com