Myers, Bernadette | Surviving Mesothelioma

Myers, Bernadette

Lying underneath starched sheets, staring up at a white plastered ceiling, I breathe slowly.

In. Out. One. Two.

I clench and unclench my hands. My palms are sweaty. My whole body is sweaty. Anticipation does suit me well.

My parents sit on the edge of their seat, right next to my bed. Mom reaches for my hand, but I don’t notice.

She sniffs. The machine next to me hums quietly.

The tip tap of feet comes from the hallway and I look over quickly. My doctor walks through the doorway, chart in hand, blank face.

That’s not a good sign.

He slides toward the foot of my bed then flips through my chart, clearing his throat several times. My parents look frightened, but I just lay there, anticipating.

“Miss Myers,” he says monotonously, “I’m very sorry, but it appears that you have cancer. A very deadly kind of cancer, called mesothelioma. We are going to do everything in our power to fix it, but your prognosis isn’t very good. You have about one year.”

My parents burst into tears. I feel the numbness seep into my body.

* * *

I have never been diagnosed with cancer, but this feeling of numbness has spread through my life before. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was ten. I was too young to fully understand her disease, but old enough to witness the ravaging effects of chemotherapy and radiaton. While she survived, I live with the fear that I will cross the same bridge later in life. Yet, even though cancer lurks in the shadows, instilling fear and despair in many people who encounter it, I find inspiration in James “Rhio” O’Connor’s story.

In 2001, Rhio was diagnosed with a deadly cancer called mesothelioma. The cancer forms on the protective linings that cover many of the body’s internal organs. It is caused by an exposure to asbestos in early life. Rhio’s cancer had formed along the outer lining of his lungs and internal chest wall very near his spine. The tumors position and advanced stage made surgery impossible. He was given one year to live. But instead of giving up on life, instead of just letting cancer ravage his body as he stood by unable to stop it, Rhio took action. With a combination of dieting, following a supplement regimen and staying informed, Rhio was able to extend his life for six more years. I know that if I were ever diagnosed with terminal cancer, I would emulate Rhio in his drive to find the best option, so that I could live my life fully and completely.

If diagnosed with something as serious as mesothelioma, I would start by researching the common treatment method for my stage of cancer. For early mesothelioma, the conventional therapy is a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. The chemotherapy regimen consists of two drugs  Alimta and cisplatin or carboplation. There is a 74.6 percent success rate in extending the patient’s life span when this treatment is used on stage I or II mesothelioma. However, for someone in Rhio’s case the treatment would have had little to no effect. In a case where standard protocol did not have much to offer, Rhio ventured out into a broad and unknown world of health-care. He did not simply settle for the generic. Instead, he tweaked his treatment to provide for his body. If diagnosed with deadly cancer, I would follow his lead. First, I would research and consider the conventional therapy. However, if I found the therapy had little to offer, I would begin researching alternatives.

One main issue I would research is the difference between and oncologist who treats cancer and a clinician who uses alternative approaches. Alternative medicine involves treating the patient with nutrients and vitamins that are already found in the body. This way the patient is able to build up their system so they can fight the cancer on their own. I believe that my body and immune system has the power to fight unbelievable adversity. Rhio is an example of someone who helped his body function to it’s full potential and it paid off for him. If conventional methods of treatment do not present desirable results, I would follow his research methods. Many Web sites and organizations offer information and assistance. The National Cancer Institute and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine are sponsoring different clinical studies that test for the benefits of complementary and alternative medical treatments on cancer. I would ask my primary physician before starting any of these treatments. Questions like ‘What are the risks associated with this therapy?’ and ‘What benefits can be expected?’ are among the many questions I would seek answers too when researching different treatments. The most important this is to keep in mind what is best for my own body.

Two methods I would pursue that Rhio also utilized are dieting and taking on a regimen of vitamin supplements. Usually, nutritional approaches first involve a detoxification of the system to allow the blood to filter appropriately. Then I would pursue a nutritionist who could prescribe a healthy diet. My foods would most likely consist of organic materials with little sugar. I would especially avoid artificial hormones. Fried and hydrogenated foods would be out of the question since any foreign or fatty chemical could potentially feed the cancer. After consulting a professional clinician, we would work together to develop a supplement schedule that would help my system operate at its full potential. Some supplements I could research include vitamins, oils or amino acids. Fruits and vegetables also help the body function under stress. Using the support of my family and friends, I would stick to the diet and supplement regimen. Without their commitment and support, the treatment could never be as successful. The fact that Rhio was taking near 100 supplements a day proves the strenuous nature of developing an alternative treatment. However, I believe it is a small price to pay for staying informed and in control of your own life.

Ultimately, alternative or conventional treatments can only be effective if the patient knows their own body and its limits. Rhio’s treatment process would not work for another person simply because every body reacts differently to foreign invaders like cancer. Instead of simply copying his treatment, cancer patients should copy his research process. They should talk with clinicians, doctors, friends and other patients to discover a method that works for them specifically. In the future, if I face the same challenges Rhio experienced I will make sure to stay as informed as possible. He showed me that knowledge is the best way to take charge of my own life.

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