Mitchell, Melissa | Surviving Mesothelioma

Mitchell, Melissa

James “Rhio” O’Connor was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma cancer in October 2001 at the age of 61. The cancer was the result of prolonged exposure to asbestos as a young boy. Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, and usually shows no sign of symptoms for 20-50 years after initial exposure. Mesothelioma affects more than 2,000 people in the United States every year.

After O’Connor was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, doctors informed him he had, approximately, one year to live. Mr. O’Connor did not take this news lightly and, in fact, did just the opposite of what they told him to. He denied surgery, because his tumor was positioned near his spine and would essentially be too risky of a procedure. He denied chemotherapy, one of the most common forms of treatment for cancer, because he believed it would only decrease the quality of his life and not extend it. Doctors suggested that he get his affairs together, and begin hospice care, because he was not expected to live for very much longer. Instead of taking this advice, O’Connor joined up with a few clinical professions and gathered new ideas for surviving this disease. He soon began to change his eating habits, practice mind-body therapy, and take dietary supplements to strengthen his immune system. Throughout his struggle, O’Connor looked to one person to keep him disciplined—himself.

Through his own determination, knowledge, and spirit, James “Rhio” O’Connor was able to live for another seven and a half years; seven times higher than his initial life expectancy. Rhio’s theory of strong belief in something greater than oneself, along with the ability to make tough decisions, helped him to confidently overcome his battle with pleural mesothelioma. Mr. O’Connor passed away on July 11th, 2009 at the age of sixty one; but not without first publishing a book narrating his battle with cancer. The novel was entitled: “They Said Months, I Chose Years: A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story.” Rhio’s life can reminds me that there are other ways to manage cancer beyond chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. However, we will have to be willing to face the disease on our own, and trust in ones own ability and strength.

If I were faced with the same challenges as James “Rhio” O’Connor, my first instinct would be to listen to everything the doctor said. If there were three options laid neatly in front of me that could possibly treat the kind of cancer that I had, I would weigh those options. I’d use the internet; websites such as The National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov), American Association for Cancer Research (www.aacr.org), or The American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org) that could help me on my quest for knowledge in the area. From these websites, I know that the main three forms of cancer treatments are radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. I would determine all of the pros and cons of each option so that I can work with my doctor to decide which treatment is best for me. This would help me balance potential benefits against the risks of treatment. The oldest form of treatment for cancer is surgery. Surgery offers the greatest chance of cure for many types of cancer when it has not yet spread to other parts of the body, because it only treats the part of the body that is being operated on. During surgery, the surgeon removes the cancerous tumor, the tissue around the cancer, and the lymph nodes nearest the cancer. The surgeon then sends the removed tissue to a laboratory for examinations. The doctor examining the tissues can then determine whether a patient would need any further treatments to prevent the cancer from coming back. If the cell tissues show that the cancer has spread, this may result in a separate cancer therapy. Chemotherapy is the most common way to treat cancer when the cells have spread a great distance from its original spot. It can be given in the form of a pill, a shot directly to the vein, or injected into the body cavity. Chemotherapy is designed to kill off the cancer cells; and unfortunately, any other fast-growing cell that comes across its path. It may eliminate a few necessary cells such as, hair and blood cells. Another form of treatment for cancer is Radiation therapy. Radiation is used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation works best with fast-growing cells, as opposed to the beginning stages of cancer when the cancer is in its resting stage. Radiation therapy kills dividing cancer cells, as well as normal cell tissues that are diving; similar to chemotherapy. The damage to normal cells is what causes side effects. Radiation takes a few days, even weeks of treatment, for cells to begin dying off; another cause of long-term side effects.

Upon researching and weighing these options, I would not choose any form of surgery to treat my cancer. There aren’t many positive things to say about either form of surgery that I’ve researched. Surgery itself would only take affect if the cancer did not spread to more than one spot in the body. Chemotherapy, while being popular, is very likely to kill off skin and follicle cells that we need. Radiation is said to do the same, as well as present horrible side effects. Some side effects include nausea and vomiting, malfunction of the brain, hair loss, kidney and bladder infection, anemia, nerve and muscle damage, and blood clotting. Neither of these consequences are something I’d want to live with. Weighing out every option presented, it seems I would be better off changing my own lifestyle to improve my condition just as James “Rhio” O’Connor did. I’d definitely have to look at my diet, and see what kinds of things could be detrimental to my health. I would also find it helpful to start taking yoga classes, to help lift my spirits. Initially surgery seemed to me the best option, but after learning of O’Connor’s story, and researching it on my own, my opinion has changed drastically. Instead of dealing with the side effects, and dangers of either surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, logic has me leaning towards the path O’Connor chose. The conventional methods of dealing with cancer seems to come with extra baggage; baggage I have no interest in carrying. In essence, less is more.

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