Finding the Cause to Answer the Question
Often the first step in overcoming a devastating disease is finding out what caused it in the first place. In the case of cancer, it is often difficult to pinpoint an exact cause or relative timeframe for onset of the disease. This is because cancers and their symptoms mimic so many other diseases and chronic illnesses. It remains, however, that we are less fearful of that which we understand and even less so of that which we can control. This is why one of the first questions a cancer victim asks him/herself is “what caused this?” Then guilt about past behaviors and/or life choices haunts the sufferer. Just about every cancer survivor and sufferer I have met feels some responsibility for their disease.
The very nature of the way cancer forms and progresses is tremendously complex and individualized. For that reason, I think it is highly improbable that there would be one definitive cause and it is much more likely that a combination of age, environmental factors, including one’s exposure to emotional/mental stress, and hereditary factors are at play. For me, this would have to be where I start on my journey to understand and overcome a dire cancer prognosis. I would have to acknowledge that forces outside of me contributed to the condition and that forces outside myself could also cure the condition.
This is where, I believe, mesothelioma cancer victim James “Rhio” O’Connor began his journey. He knew his exposure to asbestos in his younger years was perhaps a major cause of his disease, but perhaps not the only cause. And if logic holds, that means there would be a variety of treatments, both traditional and complementary, that could cure his “Mr. Meso,” as he referred to his disease.
Any cancer is horrible, but mesothelioma is particularly so because it insidiously hides in the lining that wraps organs, building strength and resistance through the years. Pancreatic and ovarian are other cancers that hide themselves well too.
Another lining related cancer that I know all too well is transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), because my father has been living with this disease since 2006. He has lost his right kidney, his right ureter, and bladder cuff to the disease, and he has battled bladder tumors twice in the past year. He too was told that a primary culprit of his cancer was an environmental exposure, in his case the cigarette smoking he innocently engaged in 30 years prior.
Regardless, he embarked on a quest to understand his disease, fight it, and beat it. Cancer sufferers and survivors are truly the bravest people I know. James O’Connor is especially so, because the nature of his cancer was so dismal to begin with. He could have easily given up and just taken his oncologist’s advice to take his wife on a cruise and then get his affairs in order. For some people, this path would have been acceptable. But for him it was not. From somewhere deep within him rose the courage, strength, and perseverance to see this illness through – from its origins to its endings.
As an engineering and research student, I truly admire this commitment to know beyond the mere facts. It is because of people like James O’Connor that I would look to every measure to understand and cure my disease. I am a scientist at heart and believe vigorously in cause and effect. Even greater is my belief that there is so much yet to be discovered in medicine, science, and nature, particularly in the area of molecular cell biology – the genesis of tumor growth.
In recent months, I have become intrigued with the work of Nobel Prize winner Carol Greider and her discovery of telomerase. This is the enzyme that forms telomeres, which are the end caps on chromosomes in the cell. These telomeres protect chromosomes during cell division and replication. Scientists have since found cancer cells often have increased telomerase activity, thus preserving the telomeres of the harmful cancer cells and allowing the cells to “live” forever. This knowledge combined with the fact that cancer cells divide and replicate infinitely holds promise for new cancer treatment on the cellular level. Scientists are working on a vaccine that targets this excessive activity and shuts down the rogue cells.
With knowledge comes power and this is perhaps most important for cancer patients who, along with their doctors, are often fighting many unknowns. This is why I am inspired by James O’Connor.
Personally, if I found myself in this situation, I certainly would seek the help of the medical profession and opt for any and every surgery that would immediately excise the affected cells. I would follow through with recommended chemotherapy and radiation treatments, after thoroughly researching their efficacy. It would be hard to discount a drug or radiation treatment even if the benefits were negligible, simply because cancer cells are so errant and unpredictable. It could be a therapy that helps.
Like all college students, the internet would be literally attached to my hip, so I could immediately research drugs, treatments, and questions related to my disease. I am sure James O’Connor found the website www.survivingmesothelioma.com a saving grace, as he looked for answers and help. There are dozens of similar disease specific websites to help sufferers of almost any disease.
I would not discount alternative therapies, especially vitamins and natural herbs. I definitely would improve my nutrition and exercise when possible. The research is clear on the connection between a healthy lifestyle and disease.
Finally, I would look to find a local support group to help me cope with the emotional burden of living with a devastating disease. Science is powerful, but it cannot replace the humanity and compassion found in relating to others who share your pain and illness.
So for me, it would always begin with looking for the cause, probably hidden deep in the cell, and then moving forward from there, undergoing treatment, while accumulating knowledge.