When I first read about Rhio O’Connor I felt that he and I were kindred spirits. While our quests differed, both of us felt compelled to take our respective battles for health into our own hands. In October of 2001 Rhio was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, a deadly cancer most commonly associated with exposure to asbestos. It is a particularly nasty form of cancer, attacking the protective membrane that envelopes our lungs, heart and abdominal cavity. This thin coating allows organs to slide against one another with the motion of our bodies. When this becomes compromised the resulting friction leads to painful internal hemorrhaging and death. When Rhio was diagnosed he was given one year to live. He managed to stretch this out to over six years because he chose to fight it, taking the search for treatments into his own hands.
I have been fighting my own battle for over eight years. Aggravated by a near-fatal car accident, my own quest has been to reverse a complex of issues including adrenal fatigue, food sensitivities and thyroid disease. One of the lessons I have learned is that it takes becoming sick for someone to turn into a healer. I have also come to realize that medicine is indeed a practice — and that just because a treatment is the accepted one for a specific condition does not necessarily mean that it is the only one, or even the correct one.
Rhio made himself an expert on mesothelioma and proceeded to leave no avenue unexplored in his search for treatments. Given that he had been told that one year was the most that he could expect, each additional day, week and eventually, year amounted to a series of victories.
If I were in a similar position I would reject the words “no” and “only” as unacceptable, nor would I follow a boilerplate progression of chemotherapy and radiation resigning myself to that being the end of the story. I would have the advantage of starting with a medical team already honed by my own ongoing quest. My primary physician is a DO whose first profession was as a veterinarian. This gives him a valuable alternative perspective towards medicine. He is constantly looking for new ways to treat intractable conditions and passes this knowledge on to students. The second member of my team is an MD who regularly turns to herbs and flower essences. Other members of my team include an acupuncturist who practices Chinese medicine, a massage therapist, a naturopath, a homeopath, a medical intuitive and several practitioners of energy medicine. I myself have become a Reiki master to assist with my own healing, literally taking it into my own hands. My diet has also become extremely wholesome.
With my personal experience to draw upon, I would direct the attention of my team to the new challenge and then begin my own research. My first action would be to get a copy of Rhio’s book “They Said Months, I Chose Years: A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story” and use this as my bible. Realizing that bodies and cancers differ, it still makes sense to learn from the past experience of others. I would expand upon this by looking both online and in the library. Oregon Health Sciences Institute (OHSU) is a large medical school located where I live, in Portland, Oregon. They do cancer research and are thus an obvious resource. I would weigh the available therapeutic options and balance the traditional Western ones with subtler alternative and Eastern approaches. For example, homeopathic practitioners have been having some success treating the side affects of cancers using an immuno-augmentative therapy in which an herb called Iscador derived from mistletoe is administered. At the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas they have recently documented success with the treatment of breast cancer cells with homeopathic remedies. In this case they found the homeopathic remedy to be as effective as Taxol, a commonly administered chemotherapy drug, but without the side effects. In addition, treatments and research being done abroad is another avenue to pursue. It is not unheard of for the international medical community to come up with treatments that take years to filter through the maze of FDA and insurance testing and regulations. With relatively low-cost medical tourism making its way into mainstream acceptance I would be remiss if I were to overlook this option.
One of the factors attributed to Rhio’s success with prolonging his life was his positive attitude. I could not agree more. When I was in my wheelchair I was often compared to Pollyanna, from the Walt Disney movie, because I was constantly looking for ways to find the bright side of the situation. With something as deadly and debilitating as mesothelioma this would be a key component of my program. While my own quest has rewarded my persistence with slow, but steady progress, I think it is important to be realistic about mesothelioma. There is no known cure for it at this time. However, there are treatments that can be administered to slow its progress and to alleviate symptoms. To better support this I would put more time into my own neglected practice of Transcendental Meditation. The deep rest afforded by this would enhance the effects of the clinical approaches, much in the way that stretching provides oxygen to the cell structures and organs within the body. Stress is known to have debilitating effects on the body and meditation helps to ease it.
In conclusion, with Rhio’s example as inspiration I would leave no stone unturned in the fight for my life. I am a persistent researcher with a thirst for knowledge. If I were to be diagnosed with a cancer such as mesothelioma I would have plenty of incentive to become an expert on the disease. I would also find a measure of consolation in the fact that I might be able to provide a piece of the puzzle to help someone else in the future. If you wish to learn more about mesothelioma, its diagnosis, treatment and about survivors such as Rhia O’Connor I recommend the highly informative website, Surviving Mesothelioma, a Patient’s Guide sponsored by Cancer Monthly.