MacMillan, Joshua D. – Surviving Mesothelioma

MacMillan, Joshua D.

It is the morning after your retirement party from the job you have been working religiously for the last 25 years. You and your spouse are about to embark on your three week dream vacation traveling about the world, from blistering hot to bone chilling weather, to the poorest and richest countries of the world. You have been up for 2 hours, sipping coffee and reading the newspaper on a Wednesday, something you have never done in the heat of finishing up the Spring Quarterly. The phone rings. You walk over to answer it and the Caller ID reads “Dr. Ambrose.” At first it does not take you by total surprise as you have known your Doctor for the last 30 years and you figure he is just congratulating you on retirement or a follow up to make sure you are still feeling fine after taking those shots so you could travel abroad.

As you answer the phone, your demeanor changes. All the doctor asks is “Are you sitting?” You can barely mutter the word yes as your heart sinks and you think to yourself, “This cannot be good.” Next you hear “I’m sorry, but you have cancer and only 6 months to live.” You just sit there, staring into space, not knowing what to say or how to react.

As we go through life, we are faced with many challenges. Some challenges are physical, others mental, while most are extremely emotional. It is the way that we deal with these challenges that shape us to become the type of person that we are. Do we feel sorry for ourselves because of our dire state, do we pretend that nothing is wrong and hide behind a mask, or do we face this challenge head on and use our experiences to help those around us?

In the case of Rhio O’Connor, he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma cancer at the age of sixty-one and was given less than a year to live, all of which was recommended to be lived in hospice. Mr. O’Connor passed away at the age of 69. You may be thinking to yourself, what makes this story any different than any other cancer survival story? Is it the type of cancer that he beat? The answer to this would be no, as there are other survivors listed on the website www.survivngmesothelioma.com. The significance behind the story of Rhio O’Connor is not the surviving of cancer for a prolonged period of time, it is the way that he survived the devastating disease. He spent countless hours in libraries and meetings with doctors to develop a procedure of taking over 100 supplements per day in addition to a diet change and practicing mind-body medicine. The discipline he showed is just an example of what the human mind is capable of.

The cancer itself is known to be caused from exposure to asbestos, though cases have been recorded that were contracted without exposure. Mesothelioma attacks the mesothelium, which is the thin-membrane, 2-cells thick, that covers most of the internal organs of the body. As the cancer develops, it causes the cells of the mesothelium to divide abnormally without control and eventually invade nearby tissues and organs causing the cancer to spread to the rest of the body. For Rhio O’Connor, the cancer was inoperable as it was too close to the spinal column, thus leading to the development of his procedure.

When you think about being diagnosed with cancer, what would you do or what would be your reaction? Would you fall into a deep depression thinking about what your life could have been without this obstacle. Or you would look back at all the things you have done and think “Well, I had a nice run” or would you go with the third option and “embrace” the cancer and live your life to the fullest and have the heart of a warrior and beat the cancer. It seems easy to say we would want to take the same approach as Mr. O’Connor since we are not in that same position right now. In order to find that true answer, we have to look inside ourselves to find if we possess the fight and drive to destroy that demon that is attempting to overtake our body. Do you possess that invincible heart of a warrior to charge on?

For me, the legacy of Rhio O’Connor only further instills the ideals that I have grown up with and used to face challenges in my own life. The words “I can’t” have never been a part of my vocabulary. Needless to say, if I were put in the position of Rhio O’Connor, I would use every resource available to try and extend my life. I am not the type of person that would sit back and just enjoy the last few months of my life without a fight. By nature, I am a problem solver. A dire cancer prognosis would be like giving me the hardest Sudoku puzzle in the universe; yes the odds of me solving it are slim, but I would not give up because it was hard, I would only work harder. In the circumstance of having such a type of cancer, you have to have an attitude that you cannot be any worse off, everything you do can only make it better.

It is simple to say that all I would do is research prior procedures that have extended the lives of those with this cancer. I am a firm believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason and I would approach this problem that it is my fate to figure out a way to survive this cancer. I would feel it as my duty to conduct this research not to extend my life, but to help out the lives of anyone else who may come into contact with this cancer in the future.

As you read this, you may feel as my approach to this cancer is irrational or a complete copy of Mr. O’Connor’s approach, but that is exactly my point. In my life I have faced challenges quite similar to this, not a disease, but a disability that kept me from competing in the thing I love most: sports. I was born with what is known as a “knot” in my left calf, causing almost no muscle movement in my left leg at all. I performed countless hours of stretching, rehabilitation, surgery, all while on crutches and splints in an effort to gain that strength to strive for my passion of athletics. Though I never reached the Olympic level my mind is at, I still came so far. But I did so because of the drive inside me. It is not something that can be taught, but it is something everyone possesses but must uncover.

Now I want you to think about your own life. Can you think of a time when you overcame something that you were doomed to have little success at? If you have, that’s because you possess it; the drive, the fire, the emotional heart that it takes to not just think, but know there is nothing you cannot do. But the crazy thing is that we all have it, no matter who you are. You just have to find it within yourself and when you do, nothing is impossible.

Next time you are faced with a dire situation whether it be financially or emotionally, do not just feel sorry for yourself as if your life is over. Face the challenge. Create your own Rhio O’Connor story. Deep down in each of us we all have that character quality; the gene that makes us “tough” when we need to. That’s what I want all of you to do. Take the story Mr. O’Connor and relate it to your own life. Life is too short to dwell over undesirable situations. All we can do is move forward and make the best of them.

This essay is about inspiration, to find that quality that I know every single person on this planet possess. To be a fighter in everything, whether it be to bring a grade up from a C to a B, win the state title, make the Varsity team, stop an substance addiction, whatever the case may be, you have to power of living up to the same standard that Rhio O’Connor did. You can do it. I am not saying it will be easy, but you can. That is what I want from you. To fight.

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