The Battle Within
The words “you have cancer” can easily be considered three of the most terrifying words a person can hear. To most, even the hint of cancer is a death sentence, a ticking time bomb screaming at patients as dreams of a long and healthy future are extinguished. Some immediately turn to conventional methods, using chemotherapy or radiation as a way to cure a body that has seemed to betray them. Others pursue unconventional methods such as a special diet, herbs, or alternative medicine. Still others give up altogether and vow to use their last days to do the things that they have always wanted to do; these people escape their diagnosis with a plane ticket to Las Vegas or a cruise around the world. But no matter how those with the many forms of the disease deal with it, cancer is a mystery. Why does it happen? Can it be prevented? Can it be cured? These questions go unanswered. Anyone affected by cancer knows what it’s like to face its mysterious path; they know the pain of being unable to answer the questions. James “Rhio” O’Connor fought to solve the mystery of his illness, through his pursuit of knowledge of the disease and his dedication to paving his own path towards healing.
Rhio was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2001 at the age of 61. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that occurs when malignant cells are found in the mesothelium (which covers most internal organs). Like with Rhio’s case, it usually occurs after the patient has had some type of exposure to asbestos in his or her lifetime. With the gravity of this type of cancer, Rhio was expected to live less than a year. Like most people, I believe that being labeled with an expiration date would scare me into the more traditional methods. After all, I have grown up all my life being told to trust doctors and science, and I do have confidence in the medical world. If I was given the same cancer prognosis that Rhio faced, I would cling to modern medicine as my lifeline, strictly following the advice of my doctor. My faith would also play a huge role in my fight. I am Catholic Christian, and I have no doubt that I would turn to Jesus and his support during such a trying time. My parents would also play a prominent role in the decisions that I would make in my fight, as I trust them with my life. It goes back to the same story, however: I would be blindly following the advice of a doctor, one man or woman with one opinion about my condition. Rhio, however, took his life into his own hands. While most people would be washing their fears away on a beach in the tropics, Rhio spent the early days of his fight in libraries and speaking with numerous other doctors, educating himself on the disease that was, essentially, fighting to end his life. Before reading Rhio’s story, I knew that my fear of this disease would keep me from knowing all the facts. I view cancer the same way that I would a home invasion—if I knew that my house was being burglarized, I would not have the courage to fight the criminals, to see their faces for identification, and to try to protect my possessions. I would call the police, putting my life into the hands of those viewed as “more capable” of protecting me, and hide, hoping that they would leave without hurting me. That is why Rhio’s story is so deeply inspirational for me. His approach towards the invasion of his body has completely changed the way that I view cancer. Rhio had the courage to look his invader straight in the face, to try to protect his life at all costs. After all, how can you fight a fair battle without knowing anything about your opponent? While Rhio trusted his doctors, family, and friends, in the end he knew that the fight was between cancer and him alone. He would be the one to face the decision of life or death when the disease tried to steal his life away. This is why he took his prognosis into his own hands, filled his days with research, and outlived doctors’ expectations: Rhio passed away at age 69 after successfully battling the cancer for over six years.
“Thinking outside the box” is highly underestimated today. We are quick to put ourselves into the hands of those we believe know more about certain subjects than we do. But why don’t we become informed ourselves? This is exactly what Rhio did. If I was diagnosed with cancer today I would follow the example of Rhio and take the battle into my own hands—I would not be afraid to face my opponent directly. I would still use the research that the medical world has pursued and most likely receive chemotherapy or radiation treatment; however I would also talk to other patients with the disease. After all, their experience is the best knowledge. Also, I am a firm believer in the effects that the correct diet can have on one’s life and well-being, so my diet would drastically change to keep my body in its best fighting form. All the little things that make up treatment are just as important as weekly visits to the hospital for chemotherapy and a check-up. I know now that there is more to beating cancer than simply trying to eliminate it through modern medicine.
James “Rhio” O’Connor is an inspiration to anyone who has personally been affected by cancer as well as those who may one day face the disease. He outlived his “incurable” cancer by more than six years, thanks to his determination and knowledge about what was fighting against his body. His story gives a whole new identity to cancer because he refused to succumb to the disease without a fight. Cancer is never a death sentence; it is a battle, and one that many people can win. Because of his fortitude Rhio was given the gift of life, the gift that anyone facing this disease wishes to receive.