Lindsay, Elizabeth – Surviving Mesothelioma

Lindsay, Elizabeth

“A Brighter Future”

Mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelioma, a protective membrane that lines almost all of the body’s internal organs. It is most often caused by work with asbestos but can also be caused by radiation, genetic predisposition or certain viruses. The malignancy often begins in the chest cavity due to inhalation of asbestos fibers but can be in the heart or abdominal cavity because of swallowed fibers. The malignant cells of mesothelioma can not only damage the surrounding tissue in the area in which it originated but can metastasize to other organs and body systems, making it even harder to treat. This particular type of cancer is relatively rare in the United States with only about 2,000 cases diagnosed every year, but it is very deadly. If untreated, or sometimes even with treatment, mesothelioma can kill within four months to a year.

Unfortunately, James “Rhio” O’Connor was diagnosed with this awful cancer. Rhio’s physician most likely informed him of the nature of his disease and told him that he would live for a year at most. Rhio refused to accept an expiration date for his life. He refused to allow that cancer to decide when he was going to leave his family and friends. He refused to let the cancer take control of him. Rhio opted for life over death. He set out on an intellectual journey that would ultimately extend his life six years past the time he was given. Rhio spent days in the library researching mesothelioma. He spoke to numerous physicians, patients who had the same cancer, and experts in the field. Rhio learned every detail about the nature of the disease and the current treatments available. He was not satisfied and, with the help of his physicians, Rhio developed new therapies to treat mesothelioma. He ultimately succeeded in drastically extending his life.

It’s hard to imagine what you would do if given the devastating news that you had a form of cancer that is considered almost “incurable” and will kill you in less than a year. No one really knows what they would do if put in that situation, but a story like Rhio’s really makes us think about it. Am I as strong as Rhio was? Could I do what he did when faced with my mortality? Could I take control of my own future? Many, possibly most, people would answer no to those questions. They would say that the best way to spend their final days would be to try to make themselves as comfortable as possible or to reminisce about how good or bad their life was or make amends with all those they had hurt or spend their life savings on a trip to the Bahamas.

I may be in the minority, but I would refuse to give my final months to such unproductive pursuits. I have spent my life working for what I want and I would never want to end my life by giving in or giving up. I would feel like I left this world with nothing to show for myself, like I had not contributed to the world in a way that I found satisfying. I would not spend my final time like Rhio did, though. Rhio’s journey is nothing short of inspirational. He showed strength and perseverance like I have never seen. However, his journey would not be one I would take.

I am a very academic person. I enjoy learning about medical issues and disease processes. I am also a bitter person at times. I don’t think that I would want to know about a cancer that was slowing taking me away from the life that I love. It would not help me deal with the problem but probably make me more depressed. However, I would want others to learn from my experiences and my cancer. Many people go through life with perfect health. They have minor issues here and there but ultimately die without any really serious medical complications. So far, I have been lucky enough to be one of those people. Some of my friends and family and many people I have met during my short life, on the other hand, have not been so lucky. As a child, I often accompanied my mother (who works as a home care nurse) on her visits. She had patients as young as fifteen and as old as ninety who were confined to their homes because of severe, debilitating and often fatal conditions. My first real job was at a nursing home taking care of those who could not care for themselves. Now, as a nursing student, I see sickly people every day at clinical. I am intensely aware of the medical issues that affect people as they age or even, more tragically, as children or teenagers.

Often, those who live long, healthy lives don’t see those things. They don’t see that they can help even if it’s not through a direct route such as becoming a physician or nurse. Everyone can give blood, donate bone marrow, become an organ donor, donate their bodies to science when they die, participate in psychological or medical research studies. In those small ways, healthy (or unhealthy) people can significantly contribute to the medical field in a way that will help us learn more about disease processes and may lead to new and better treatments. And I strongly believe that each and every one of have a responsibility to do so.

Thus, if I were in Rhio’s situation, I would not go as far as he did and develop my own therapeutic protocol. However, I would give myself to those who could. I would use my final time on this Earth as a sort of a research participant. There are so many promising cancer treatments out there that have been put on hold because there is no way to test them. People want to use the treatments that have already been proven effective. What if the other treatments were even more effective but no one knew because no one was willing to try them? What if those untested ones were the ones that could effortlessly save thousands of lives? I could help make those treatments a reality so that my disease would no longer be “incurable.” Ultimately, I would hope that people who got mesothelioma in the future would no longer be given a death sentence but would be told that their cancer could be eradicated and the life ahead of them would be a long and happy one. And who knows, maybe one of the treatments would work and I could be told the same thing….

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