Good evening ladies and gentleman, my name is Shadow McCray and I am honored to be speaking at this evening’s Cancer Awareness Benefit. I hope that my words educate, touch, and inspire you. Cancer is a relentless disease without prejudice, with no concern for age, gender, or race. The focus of my speech tonight will be on James “Rhio” O’Connor and his example of strength and perseverance. I will also share my personal story with you about my father’s fight with cancer.
Rhio was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is a rare cancer affecting the mesothelium, a membrane covering and protecting most of the organs in the body. Mesothelioma is usually caused by exposure to asbestos, and treated with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Prognosis for mesothelioma is usually less than a year after the patient has been positively diagnosed with the disease. Because of Rhio’s positive attitude and spirit this diagnosis was not debilitating, he was more than willing to continue living his life vivaciously searching for answers while researching mesothelioma.
Instead of accepting a one year prognosis Rhio took action, self motivated he became involved in his treatment, with his research and his growing understanding of mesothelioma he was proactive and lived six years beyond his prognosis. Rhio did not sit back and accept the situation as it was, he acted, he did not accept a powerless state of mind or attitude he took control of his outcome, not leaving it to a prognosis.
Being proactive with cancer is not easy because it is such an aggressive disease. My father was diagnosed with T cell lymphoma three years ago and I have seen cancer in action. Shock is the only word I can think of when I heard about the diagnosis. I was out of the country at the time serving a voluntary mission for my church in Puerto Rico, my sister called and told me “Dad has Cancer, they want to start chemotherapy in a couple of weeks.” So many questions raced through my mind, what kind of cancer, is he going to live, is he going to lose all of his hair? I was flooded with different emotions but fear was the biggest, I was scared my father was going to die. Cancer is a serious disease and I could only think of commercials and movies I had seen with patients looking thin and so ill without hair, I did not want to see my father like that, sick and in pain.
I was scheduled to return home two weeks after the phone call but I did not want to go, I did not want to face cancer in my father, I reasoned with myself thinking that if I don’t see him ill it wouldn’t be true. Then something happened in my thinking and I realized the word “I” was not as important as the words “he” or “him.” What was my father feeling, how was this affecting him, and how scared was he? From that moment on I realized I was going to have to be strong, and accept that my father had cancer, it was real. I had not seen my family in more than a year and a half, and my father already looked weak, and frail. Just the day before he had his port placed for chemotherapy, he also had an open wound under his left arm that smelled of rotting flesh, which had to be cleaned daily.
My father’s journey with chemotherapy started the day after I returned home, that night he was hospitalized for neutropenic fever and the wound under his arm was surgically removed. He was introduced to a wound-vac and continued with different forms of chemotherapy. Six months later there was no improvement and his oncologist discussed stem cell treatment. My father was not a good candidate for stem cell therapy so he began radiation. The disease was progressing faster than the treatment, every week a new tumor on his chest or stomach the radiation just could not keep up with the cancer. My father talked with his oncologist and told him he wanted to take a month off from any treatment, he was worn out and his body was just too tired for any more at that time.
My father is not like Rhio O’Connor, we talked to his oncologist and asked that no prognosis be given because my father would take it literally and die whenever the oncologist said he would. It was eight months later when we saw the cancer was not responding to any treatment that we privately asked his doctor his prognosis. It is hard to hear a doctor tell you that your father has only a year to live. At that moment we did not know what to do. Accept it and prepare for the loss, make funeral plans, write wills, let him do whatever he wants because it does not matter anymore, he will be gone in a year?
That was not the answer for us; we began to look outside of conventional treatment and therapy. We researched the specific type of cancer my father had, and the internet is an amazing tool with so much information and even support for cancer patients and their families. Libraries have so many different books on what new treatments are available, and my father’s oncologist was always available to answer any question we had. A 1-800 number my brother got off of the radio led us to certain naturopathic medicines that my father started taking, he returned to his oncologist a month later and many of the bumps and tumors were gone.
It has been two years since my father has had any chemotherapy or radiation, he sees his oncologist on a regular basis, continues with PET scans, and blood work. He actually had an appointment yesterday and everything looked good, no new tumors, nothing serious in his blood work or PET scan. He regularly takes his naturopathic and herbal medicines; doctors would probably disagree with me when I say my father takes a miracle phytoplankton that saved his life because he was losing a battle with cancer.
We as a family did not sit still and watch my father slip from this life, we took action and our approach like Rhio O’Connor’s was proactive. Conventional medicine is wonderful and we are so thankful for the doctors and nurses who cared for my father, but if it is not working, if it is not the answer don’t give up. This is a vast world with so many resources, research them, I promise you have nothing to lose. In the end you will only be more educated, more inspired, more in control of how cancer affects you personally or your loved one. You will be able to look back and know you did all that you could, you fought with all of the resources this world has to offer, because life is worth fighting for. Like James Rhio O’Connor you will be an inspiration to many. Thank you for the opportunity to share an inspirational story and legacy left by Rhio, and allowing me to share my personal experiences as well.