An Inspirational Process

James Rhio O’Connor not only outlived his one-year cancer prognosis by six, but exemplified an inspirational process of self-actualization and tenacious pursuit of a healthful regimen that allowed him to live longer. Diagnosed in 2001 with a relatively rare cancer called mesothelioma, in which the cells of the membranous mesothelium divide abnormally, Mr. O’Connor chose to research his cancer independently. Reactions to a cancer diagnosis can range from complete denial to hopeless resignation; Mr. O’Connor’s was at neither end of the spectrum. In the last years of his life, despite knowing that his diagnosis was fatally inevitable, he discovered valuable resources in his consultation with various physicians, conversation with other cancer patients, and research regarding nutrition and alternative medicine. The most important constituent of his survival during this period of emotional turbulence and uncertainty was surely his zeal for life. Throughout the trial of his cancer, Mr. O’Connor embodied optimism in a pivotal way such that he used his extreme adversity to fuel his acquisition of knowledge. In refusing to obey the predicted course of his prognosis, Mr. O’Connor showed that taking initiative to obtain insight on one’s own challenges is the ultimate cure.

As the daughter of a 58 year-old non-small cell lung cancer adenocarcinoma patient, I have garnered great admiration and appreciation for Mr. O’Connor’s story and strategy for survival. Given that, I would highlight the same areas of self-discipline in my search for extending my father’s life and my own, as I am now aware that I may be at risk. Although Mr. O’Connor’s condition was probably caused by asbestos exposure and my father’s due to carcinogenic smoke from his father, a habitual smoker, both were exposed at a young age and were diagnosed in their late-fifties or early sixties. My father also received a one year prognosis, about average since lung cancer is notoriously fatal, although this was the prognosis without medical treatment. Both Mr. O’Connor’s and my father’s experiences will contribute greatly to my own proposal for facing cancer.

Never having smoked in his life, my father was shocked to find out one year ago that his lung contained a surgically-irremovable tumor almost certainly caused by cigarette smoke. My father is a resilient man who has taught high school math and sciences courses for over twenty years, inadvertently teaching some of the biological concepts behind his own disease. Very much like Mr. O’Connor, my father has proceeded with problem-focused coping to deal with the painful experience of diagnosis. After consulting and re-consulting his primary care physician, my father turned to his primary love in life-his family. My mother, my brother, and I have provided him with immense emotional support as a key step for my father to cope with his stress. Following the initial shock of the diagnosis, my father began poring over online health articles and survivor stories to find a way to optimize his supposed one year to live. To raise awareness and support for lung cancer, my father has organized a benefit run at a local park, taught tai-chi to Gilda’s Club members, and participated in group exercises at the local YMCA. Optimism has guided my father through a successful first year of survival. The autonomous personality that characterizes my father prompted him to explore numerous options to treat his adenocarcinoma. Of particular note, he has followed the regimen his physician prescribed for Tarceva, a relatively new pill taken orally that targets the destruction of HER1 protein which causes tumor growth. This was considered as a favorable alternative to beginning chemotherapy or radiation, neither of which my father has begun, as both would impair his normal cell functioning. Since his lung cancer tumor cannot be removed, as it is too close to his spine and surgery would risk excessive tissue damage, my father has adopted all other viable methods to enhance his cancer resistance. For instance, he has sought advice from family members in California regarding alternative medicine clinics, followed a strict exercise routine that includes weightlifting and swimming, conferred with a specialist dietician to optimize his nutritional intake, and taken weekly walks in the park with my mother for repose. My father is the epitome of a cancer fighter in my immediate experience with cancer and I marvel at his ability to traverse such adversity.

Having two such poignant accounts of two individuals who have chosen to surmount rather than succumb to their hardships, I would utilize the same optimism to confront a cancer prognosis. Knowing that difficulties ebb and flow into our lives without so much as a warning, just as Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake have demonstrated, I would recognize my cancer as a reality and then proceed to cope with it. To clarify my condition, I would first consult the physician who diagnosed me or the oncology specialist to whom I was referred in order to obtain as much detail on my particular type of cancer as possible. After doing some research on my own, browsing websites such as the National Cancer Institute as I did for my father, I would begin asking the people who know the most about cancer-those who have or are still living with cancer. To further my insight on my cancer, I would read, read, and read again. Reading, I believe, is the most comprehensive way of grasping a topic because it requires attention to the various opinions and experiences which collectively constitute a person’s ultimate understanding. In addition, I would consult a variety of academic and medical textbooks to acquire information familiar to my physicians in order to be on the same page during appointments. If my cancer was at an early, curable stage, I would most definitely consider surgical removal to eliminate the source of future pain. As in Mr. O’Connor and my father’s condition, however, if surgery is not an option due to metastasis, or a spreading of the cancer, I would accept other beneficial treatments including chemotherapy and radiation. I would make sure to make use of all the resources that could contribute another valuable perspective on my cancer so that I could formulate the optimal approach to my condition. I am fortunate to have my father’s experience and research on cancer, specifically adenocarcinoma which I may be genetically predisposed to getting, so that I will know what it takes to live strong and beat the prognosis.

The awareness I have gained from Mr. O’Connor and my father’s experiences encourages me to work on cancer prevention, in myself and other individuals who may be at risk. After all, Mr. O’Connor succeeded in beating his cancer prognosis not only by outliving it, but also by inspiring others to reach their fullest potentials. As a health-conscious individual, I am currently very interested in nutrition and the benefits of a clean environment free of hazardous substances to further my commitment to fighting cancer. I am looking a good deal before chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery is required to help ensure a healthier future for myself and generations to follow.

“We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch.” -John F. Kennedy

By: Liu, Cherry

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