Palmer, Emily | Surviving Mesothelioma

Palmer, Emily

Setting your circumstances

One of my favorite quotes is by a gentleman named G. B. Shaw who said that, “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are…[but] The people who get on in this world are the those who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” To me this means that you have to do what you believe is right for yourself, and that you have to pursue your goals even if there are obstacles in the way that are telling you that it is impossible. When I first heard of Rhio’s story, I immediately thought of this quote. Rhio O’Connor was a man who got up and looked for the circumstances he wanted; when he didn’t find them, he created his own.

Rhio O’Connor was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer called malignant mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a cancer that essentially eats away at the lining of the patient’s internal organs, and is caused by exposure to asbestos. Seventy five percent of treated patients are given up to five years to live after the original prognosis. Rhio, however, was not able to receive the needed treatment due to the unfortunate proximity of his tumor to his spine and other complications. Therefore, Rhio had to make some tough decisions about how he wanted to spend the precious little time he had left. He educated himself on the subject of his cancer; he interviewed and met with an endless array of doctors, nurses and cancer specialists. He decided he was going to try to beat his cancer by changing his diet, using an intensive supplement program, practicing mind-body medicine, and by fostering an almost stubborn will to survive.

Rhio was told that he had no chance at survival. It was suggested to him that he get his affairs in order and start saying his goodbyes as soon as possible. Upon hearing such news, most people would weep, call friends and family, or fall deep into depression. Rhio, however, was not like most people. Rhio O’Connor decided that he was not going to give up, but that he would either find a way to beat his disease, or make one.

The determination and perseverance Rhio demonstrated in his battle with mesothelioma set such an example for the cancer and medical community that I believe he could easily be considered a hero. A real-life hero is not someone who puts on a cape and rids the world of super-villains. A hero is a person who fights against the odds for what he or she believes is right. Rhio might not have personally saved dozens of lives in an epic battle, but he did all he could to save himself. In the process of saving himself, Rhio not only preserved his faith and the faith of his family, but he gave hope to all who consider their situations hopeless. Rhio is a hero because he believed in himself; he believed in the fact that he needed to live for himself and his family; he would not give into bad news. Rhio did not accept the circumstances of his illness, so he went out and single handedly redirected the course of his disease. Many people probably do not think that determination alone could change anything, especially a fatal cancer prognosis, but many people probably do not have or recognize the strong faith and drive that is necessary to do so. It is amazing how one man found the courage to tell his doctors they were wrong and subsequently chased down the solution he wanted.

I would like to think after hearing Rhio’s amazing story that if I were ever in a similar situation, I would have the bravery to at least attempt to change my circumstances as Rhio did. Upon hearing such a prognosis, most people would start entering the stages of grief associated with death; the first stage being denial. Caught in such a state of denial I would get a second and third opinion. After hearing from as many doctors as possible, I would go online to the National Cancer Institute web site and continue to learn all I could about the disease through books, testimonials, other patients, the internet and specialists. I would also look up any potential clinical trials, and try to join a support group to help me deal with all of the new feelings that come with a fatal prognosis. After all of this however, it is important to remember that medical care is a business. There are many professionals (MD’s, nurses, etc.) who have great intentions for their patients but are unfortunately limited by the medical systems that create guidelines for treatment to which they must adhere. As a patient, it is important to remember that, like Rhio, you must be your own advocate. It is important to push the boundaries and to “see” beyond the limitations of the local medical institutions and insurance companies. I would try to talk to anyone and everyone who might have advice for me. Different people in different sectors of the medical world would be able to give their own insight.

To push the boundaries surrounding him, Rhio used many unorthodox strategies to beat his cancer. He was probably thought to be unbalanced and irresponsible for trying tactics such as mind-body medicine, but in the end Rhio was rewarded with seven extra years of precious life. Who is to say which of the slightly bizarre tactics Rhio employed was the right one? It could have been the combination of all of the devices he used, his never-ending optimism, and ever-enduring faith that kept him alive for so long. It is possible that one of the reasons Rhio was put on this earth was to inspire people to never give up and to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles.

I have been actively involved in the American Cancer Society through my school, and have participated in Relay for Life for several years. I have had the honor of being able to witness the effect of inspirational stories like Rhio’s on those who have also received a dire cancer prognosis, and how stories like his can be very empowering to those who otherwise feel hopeless. As these people continue to fight the often-fatal battle with caner, their stories become inspiration for others, as Rhio’s was for them. My ties to these amazing organizations, along with knowing the difficulties the families and everyone involved face, makes me respect and admire Rhio more. If I am ever caught in a battle with cancer, I know I will think of Rhio O’Connor and of what his story has taught me, in a way that no one else ever could, that you can take charge and control your own life despite what conventional wisdom and even the most educated men might think. Anything is possible if you make your own circumstances.

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