McCleve, BreeAnn | Surviving Mesothelioma

McCleve, BreeAnn

There have been moments in my life when I’ve realized that nobody on earth can save me. No doctor can diagnose a miracle drug that will strip my body of disease and illness. No nurse can ever cater to my needs enough to force cancer into remission. No amount of flowers or get well cards can ever provide what my body needs. And no matter how hard friends and family and even strangers try, sometimes, it’s up to me to save myself.

After all, it’s my life, and no one can tell me how live it, so no one will tell me how I’m to die, or when. I call the shots, and when I’m ready, I will go. Being told “That isn’t going to work,” won’t stop me. Discouragement and talk of failure will only feed my burning desire to hold onto life and the beauty it holds.

In my mind’s eye, I am all powerful. I am strong. I may not have control over the cancer that infects me, but I have plenty of control over how I react and what I do about it, and I have an expansive well full of methods and ideas and my disposal. The human mind is fantastic; it is ever growing, ever expanding, and so are ideas. New thoughts are brought to life every moment, every breath. People are finding cures. I hear their stories every day, and their stories give me hope because where one succeeds, another can, and where none have yet succeeded, I see it as my responsibility to lead the push for victory.

One such story is that of James “Rhio” O’Connor. Two years ago, this great man died of mesothelioma, a cancer caused by excessive exposure to asbestos, which is a fiber-like silicate mineral once used in construction of buildings, specifically insulation. Its use has been severely limited since the discovery of its cancer-causing side-effects, but that hasn’t prevented those already infected from dying of this terrible disease. Rhio, however, was a man who took charge of his life. He survived his doctor’s diagnosis of months by nearly seven years. He has been an inspiration to patients of mesothelioma, and any other imaginable form of cancer, through innumerable venues. One such venue is his book, titled: “They said months, I chose years: A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story.” Rhio believed, and I agree, that curing cancer is more than a battle between chemotherapy and cancer cells. He the following in his book:

“How important is self-sufficiency in surviving mesothelioma or any other cancer? I think it is vital. You have to possess the faith and confidence to make the right treatment decisions…Turning away from conventional therapies and embarking on my own path to treat my disease took discipline and courage.” (O’Connor, 2008)

This astounding determination is what gave Rhio seven more years of life; nobody gave it to him—he gave it to himself.

In my own life, finding the cure is about formulating a system that works for me, and maybe only me. That’s why no one has found “the cure” yet, and why I think no one ever will. It’s not about “the cure,” but my cure. This cancer infects my body, my friends and family, my life, so the cure should also be mine. I’m not going to let a doctor, my mom, my dad, or anyone else tell me how to cure my cancer. I’m not going to let drugs and professionals convince me that their way is the best way, the quickest way, the painless way, or the only way. I’m going to go out into the world and research. Compare and contrast. Read about what has worked and what hasn’t, and try both, if I feel like it. If a method feels right to me, I will try it, despite any misgivings others might have.

One intriguing method is called “Holistic healing.” It is slowly becoming more widespread in the United States, but many of my acquaintances are more than incredulous in their response every time I mention it. Holistic healing is more of a lifestyle than an actual method of healing, which is why I think it’s ideal; it does not focus on curing maladies in the body, but rather, on fixing an imbalance in the emotional, spiritual, or belief-driven centers of a person. It follows the idea that illness or injury in the body is often (although not always) associated with an excess of a negative or harmful emotion, spiritual neglect or guilt, or practicing an incorrect belief about oneself or ones surroundings. One article said this on the subject:

“Most practitioners in this area believe that negative emotions are stored as “negative energy” in [the body], causing it to be out of balance. They say this lack of balance leads to chronic disease states in the physical body…There is a growing body of quite hard-core scientific evidence that links the emotions to the strength of the immune system.” (O’Brien, 2001)

In areas of the world besides America and its surroundings—places such as India, Japan, Africa, and China—there is a higher emphasis on things of a spiritual nature. Much more is believed concerning spirits of other worlds, on the power of the human mind to influence its surroundings, and what can be termed as “alternative” healing methods. Here in America, Canada, and even in most of Europe, we have adopted what are termed “Western” ideals; that is, we tend to place more emphasis and trust in physical remedies for every ailment. Those of predominantly Western background have a more difficult time influencing their physical forms with their emotional or spiritual ones.

Therefore, most would write this method off, tossing it in the bin with other “crackpot” and “mystical” ideas. That is fine by me—they have the same right to come up with their own cure. But a simple difference in cultural background won’t dissuade me from potentially finding my cure.

There is a Latin Proverb that states: “If the wind will not serve, take to the oars.” I will pattern the actions I take in discovering my cure after this simple phrase, for within it lies the very principle James “Rhio” O’Connor taught by living his life to the fullest extent he could manage: if one thing isn’t successful, try another. If chemotherapy isn’t enough, if surgery and hospitals and doctors aren’t enough, find another way to make it work. Anything is possible to the man who does not cease to try, and my life is worth living, for as long as I can possibly live it.

I will chart my own course and aim for the stars, and I will, by my own sweat and blood and sheer determination, find my cure.

Works Cited:

O’Brien, T. (2001, February 6). The Nature of healing. Retrieved

O’Connor, J.R. (2008). They said Months, I said years: a mesothelioma survivor’s story. Raleigh, NC: Cancer Monthly, Inc.

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