Murray, Desarea – Surviving Mesothelioma

Murray, Desarea

Inspired to Survive

In 2001, James “Rhio” O’Conner was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma and provided with a blismal one year to live by his doctor. Refusing to be a typical victim and fall into predictable statistics, James resisted reality. He chose to fight and make a stand for himself and others who suffered his fate. He spent the next six years of his life surviving and learning. His life could have ended more quickly and tragically than it did, but he did not give up. This man’s story has inspired many, including myself and has taught me that determination, open-mindedness, and value of life can take a person a long way.

Malignant mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelium, a protective membrane that lines many of the body’s internal organs. It often occurs in the lining of the lungs, called pleura. This is the cancer that took the life of Mr. O’ Conner. Mesothelioma can also infect the chest cavity, peritoneum, or pericardium which is the thin membrane that lines the heart. Symptoms of mesothelioma include: pain in the lower back, shortness of breath, fatigue, weight loss, abdominal pain, and/or swelling. Unfortunately symptoms alone will not confirm the diagnosis therefore several tests have to be administered. These tests can include: blood tests, fluid and tissue sample tests, biopsies, imaging tests, and a series of X-rays. Multiple opinions of the diagnoses can be beneficial because the cancer is very uncommon. Although, if you have excessive exposure to asbestos, you have a higher risk of actually having mesothelioma.

I can only imagine what it is like having an average life, husband and family, career, friends, and then being diagnosed with this terminal cancer. I would be in shock, perhaps a state of denial. The pressure from the road that lies ahead would convince me to go and get a second or third opinion. If the cancer was confirmed I would simultaneously enter a brief state of depression. I would immediately think about what this could do to my marriage, children’s lives, and the emotional struggles of my surrounding family and friends. My favorite motivational quote is, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” I imagine that the whole process of researching a disease and trying to overcome death could be quite intense, and I may make a few mistakes along the way. That particular quote will be one of the few things that could keep me going and push me to work harder. Shortly thereafter, I would begin to send out prayer request to my religious community and rigorously research my disease for hopes of a better outcome.

My first source for information would be WebMD. Knowing that most people do not survive mesothelioma, I would not base my decisions on statistics but rather medical facts. I would begin researching what the cancer is and the effects it has on my body. Treatments would be my next point of interest. I would want to know about the success rates of most procedures and the most successful treatment centers that deal with my cancer. I would investigate even further into those treatment centers to see their successful treatment rates as well as their failures. I would then be forced with the decision of what to do for treatment. I would explore doctor’s opinions and listen to the testimonies of survivors and family who lost loved ones to Mesothelioma. I would base the majority of my decisions on the effectiveness of the treatment and the risk vs. reward of that treatment. For instance, if I were to be highly recommended for chemotherapy, but told I would be at a high risk for developing other problems, then I would want to pursue a surgical route, less effective, but also bears less side effects on my healthy body.

Overseas treatments or medications would not be taken into consideration for me because I would feel like I am being experimented on. Opinions from doctors, survivors, and family of prior victims would be very beneficial to my research. I would seek guidance from my closet family members especially my father. He is a very wise man and I trust his opinions greatly. He has helped me through a lot of things and I feel as though he would be right by my side through the whole process. I would not be able to go through this alone, my survival would not only depend on myself, but I would need the support of my family. Without them to keep me strong and help to open other points of view, I fear that I would give up on myself. I know that my family would give me bountiful reasons to want to go on, and survive.

Cancer is a hard diagnosis for anyone to be given, but James “Rhio” O’Conner proved that a diagnosis is not the end of your life. He had the choice to accept what he was given and become yet another mesothelioma statistic, but he stepped outside of his comfort zone and fought for his life until the very end. He refused to take no for an answer and his story has inspired many of us who live after him. Through the beauty of his story, I have learned that as long as you try hard enough, you can influence the outcome of any situation and through your own will of strength, anything is possible.

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