Mesothelioma is a very rare malignant disease where cancerous tumors grow on the lining of the internal organs, or the mesothelium, that is made up of parietal and visceral membranes. The most common known is the pleural mesothelioma which occurs in the pleura lining the lungs. Other forms of mesothelioma are the peritoneal mesothelioma occurring in the peritoneum lining the abdominal cavity and the pericardial mesothelioma occurring in the pericardium lining the heart. It is caused by exposure to asbestos which was once popular in many commercial and consumer products. Many of those affected by mesothelioma are industrial workers who have handled insulation, automobile brake pads, or roofing shingles and have breathed in the asbestos. Many others using consumer products and hair dryers were also exposed but never realized it. People exposed as far back as the 1940’s are just now being diagnosed with 2,000 new cases every year in the United States alone. Many symptoms of mesothelioma are shortness of breath, fatigue, pain under the rib cage, and swelling or lumps in the abdomen.
One victim of asbestos exposure was James Rhio O’Connor who, at age 61, was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. He was told that surgery and chemotherapy were not wise options for him and that he had less than a year to live. Astonished with how quickly his doctors had “given up” on him, Rhio refused to accept his prognosis. Instead he researched his condition, changed his diet, and worked with many professional clinicians in attempt to survive his cancer. Rhio remarkably survived for 7 years past his prognosis and passed away at age 69 in 2009.
Unsure of what I would do if given a dire cancer prognosis, I assume my initial reaction would be denial. Not believing the doctors or the tests I would demand them to recheck their reports, to run the tests again, and ask to speak with additional doctors. Upon leaving the clinic or hospital where my fate was potentially “sealed”, I would call friends and family members about my recent visit and converse about how wrong the doctors were and how I could not possibly have mesothelioma. Once common sense kicks in I would naturally begin the five stages of death and advance to anger realizing that I am not in control of my life and that it’s going to end before I want it to. After completing the third and fourth stages of death, bargaining and depression, the next stage on the list would be acceptance- that I will succumb to the inevitable. But is this stage really necessary? I would begin to wonder if I really had to accept my fate. Would I be able to change it? With the inspirational story of James Rhio O’Connor lingering in my mind I would begin educating myself about my disease. With public libraries and book stores offering as much information as one could read I would first turn my attention towards books. Informational books about mesothelioma and cancer, self-help books for those diagnosed, and Rhio’s book called “They Said Months, I Chose Years: A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story.” I would gather as much information as I could about the disease, how it progresses, and many survivor stories with their own findings and treatments. With all my notes collect I could easily draft up a few important questions that I would present to my family and most importantly, my mother. Together we can review what I learned in preparation for its presentation to my doctors. Not only would I consult my original doctors who had diagnosed me, I would make appointments with many other doctors and clinicians to get opposing views as well as repeated ones. Only after much deliberation with many professionals and family members would I be able to make an informed decision about my treatments.
With chemotherapy and surgery providing little or no help to me I would turn towards alternative treatments. I would start by changing my diet including taking more vitamin c, Iscador from mistletoe, shark cartilage, and reducing my calorie intake. I would also begin practicing IYT, or integrative yoga therapy. Many medical researchers are studying the benefits of therapeutic yoga and while research is still young, there have been positive results in the assistance with cancer, heart disease, pain, anxiety, asthma, and fatigue. Adding mantra and mindfulness meditation along side of yoga I would find inner peace as that obtained by Rhio O’Connor when he practiced his mind-body medicine. If diagnosed with a malignant disease such as mesothelioma I would aspire to be as brave as James Rhio O’Connor to take such important steps to evade my prognosis. Rhio inspires me to not just accept any fate thrown in my direction but to make my own decisions about my life and to ensure that it is fulfilled at it’s greatest.