A Silver Lining

A Silver Lining

Sitting on a cold, hard, metal bench in the doctor’s office, the patient awaits the results of that all-important test. The doctor walks into the room and says the three most chilling words anyone can hear; “You have cancer.” It’s everyone’s worst nightmare. The prolonged agony of knowing death is coming, but being unsure of when is a difficult situation to deal with for a patient. It is very difficult to remain positive in such a situation, especially when doctors, who are taught to distance themselves from the situations of their patients, announce this life-altering event so matter-of-factly, but that exactly what James “Rhio” O’Connor did. Mr. O’Connor channeled his positive attitude into an active effort to educate himself about the Pleural Mesothelioma threatening his life. Through his research, he was able to make the best possible treatment decisions for himself and was able to outlive his diagnosis by more than seven years !

Rhio O’Connor developed Mesothelioma in much the usual way, by exposure to asbestos in his youth, but his case was anything but usual. He refused to accept death right from the beginning. The placement of the tumor so near Mr. O’Connor’s spine rendered surgery impossible. Moreover, fear of poor quality of life lead him to refuse chemotherapy, as he did not wish to be sick everyday for the remainder of his life. Therefore, O’Connor turned to alternative and natural forms of combating his “Mr. Meso”. “Working with professional clinicians, he formulated a regimen of over 100 supplements a day, changed his diet, practiced mind-body medicine, and relied on his own discipline to see him through the difficult times ahead.”

It is easy to understand just how difficult Mesothelioma can be when one learns of the scientific realities of this life-threatening condition. As is most often the case, it all starts with asbestos. According to Asbestos.com, asbestos is a type of naturally occurring fiber and there are two types. “The serpentine group, usually of a curly form, contains only one asbestiform variety, referred to as chrysotile. The amphibole group, which is straight and needle-like, contains five asbestiform varieties: anthophyllite, grunerite (amosite), riebeckite (crocidolite), tremolite, and actinolite. The U.S. Bureau of Mines has listed more than 100 mineral fibers as “asbestos-like” fibers, but the United States government only regulates the six aforementioned forms (primarily due to effective lobbying on behalf of the asbestos and stone industries).” The website also warns, “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines fibers of concern as at least five micrometers long and at least three times as long as their diameters.” Asbestos is extremely dangerous because its fibers readily separate and it does not react well with human tissue or biological processes, and as a result can become entrapped in the lining of vital organs which causes inflammation and cellular damage. The lungs, the abdomen, and the pericardium (the protective “sac” around the heart) are especially vulnerable.

Doctors diagnosed James “Rhio” O’Connor in October 2001, at the age of sixty-one, with Pleural Mesothelioma. Mesothelioma received its name because tumors form in the mesothelium, which is a special “thin layer of mesodermal epithelial cells that forms the pleura, peritoneum , and pericardium.” Because Mr. O’Connor’s diagnosis was the Pleural form, this means it started in the Pleura or the “a thin membrane that covers the lungs (visceral pleura) and lines the chest cavity (parietal pleura) malignant: harmful, dangerous (a malignant tumor is a cancer).” This is not only the most common form , but it is also a sort of “gateway cancer” opening the door for tumors to metastasize (spread) to other organs, especially the pericardium and the abdomen lining. The signs and symptoms are shortness of breath, painful breathing (pleurisy), painful coughing, chest pain under the rib cage, unusual lumps of tissue under the skin on your chest, unexplained weight loss, and dry (nonproductive) cough, fatigue, night sweats, and coughing up blood. The pleura can also become calcified and/or form plaque. Sadly, these common symptoms too often go misdiagnosed. Having an understanding of the disease and knowing how it works enables one to comprehend the pain and suffering of a patient like Rhio, making his story even more inspiring.

The story of James O’Connor is so inspiring because of how he was able to keep up his spirits and allow his never dying will to live to drive him to triumph over cancer. If diagnosed, my first priority would be to do the same and keep a positive outlook. Many believe that stress-reducing effects of keeping a positive outlook reduce inflammation, improve the immune system, and allow the patient to live longer and happier. In order to keep a positive outlook, I would establish a strong support system with my family, friends, and a support group for cancer patients. Cancer patient support groups are under-utilized too often, but they are a wealth of information regarding treatment options and a source of compassionate support from people who have lived through your same condition. As a Christian, I am also a believer in the power of prayer, and one can find comfort and support in one’s church. Mood elevation is a well-known benefit of such calming forms of exercise as Tai Chi, yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises. These exercises help strengthen a body as well as the mind. I would also consider a positive treatment environment like the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Their goal is patient empowered care.

Education is a key part of overcoming such a persistent disease as cancer. I would make use of my right to get the opinion of multiple doctors as well as multiple libraries and online resources. As a vegan, I am also well aware of the benefits of nutritional education and using cancer fighting super foods and organic whole food like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to reduce the size of tumors and aid in immunity and detoxification. I believe it is well worth a cancer patient’s time to get educated about natural medicine and herbal remedies that can assist in the effectiveness of modern medicine. In addition, as mentioned before, nothing is more informative than the education of survivors. Their stories offer firsthand accounts of proven effective advice because they already beat cancer.

Should I ever become a cancer patient, I would never want to miss an available treatment option. One of the best things a patient can do is contact all the best-known experts in their condition and research any possible clinical studies or trials. Any new research just might be the research that could save my life. It would be important to know as many specifics about my condition as possible to help choose the most effective, promising treatments. Looking at treatment from every angle and thinking in new and creative ways often reveals solutions the patient would not have otherwise known to consider. The only way to make informed decisions is to know every option there is to choose. James “Rhio” O’Connor was a unique individual and it probably bought him seven and a half years of life. O’Connor could easily have given up when doctors told him he had a year to live, but he did not. O’Connor decided to fight and was more determined than ever. Who were those doctors to tell him how long he had to live? Doctors are not God. He defied every expectation and earned himself an extra seven and a half years of life. What does that mean to a cancer patient? What could a person do with seven and a half years that, by modern medical standards, they never should have had? It might mean seven and a half years worth of hugs. It might mean the chance to see their child grow up or the chance to see them get married. It might mean the chance to live a dream they never imagined they would have a chance to fulfill. Seven and a half years would mean various things for different people, but one thing is for sure: they would mean a lot.

By: Meinville, Desiree

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