Picture the scariest Hollywood movie of all time. Here’s what it would look like: a villain so ugly and terrifying that it brings all who witness it to tears. The powers that this character has make it the deadliest thing on earth. At the most unsuspecting times, it creeps into the homes of happy families, thriving corporations, and quaint communities, and upon its departure, leaves a path of destruction and devastation in its wake. Unlike the typical evildoers the world has come to know, this villain has the power to take out tens, hundreds, even thousands of people at a time. The worst part of all is that its victims have done nothing to deserve the terror that this character brings upon their lives. You see—this really isn’t a Hollywood horror plot at all. It’s reality, and the villain is cancer.
Not long ago, my mother was diagnosed with melanoma cancer, the result of using tanning beds for a large portion of her life. When my mom started seeing abnormal spots on her skin, she went on to act like it was no big deal and continued as usual with her day-to-day life. She’s one of those hard-headed, stubborn people, and sometimes I think that even if she were bleeding to death and unable to move, she would completely act like nothing was wrong. However, thanks to the encouragement of a close family friend, my mom went to the doctor, and it was there that she received the diagnoses. Luckily, the cancer was caught in its early stages, and all that needed done was a few quick surgical procedures to remove some tumors that had started to develop. Six years later, and my mom is living cancer free. This event, however, brought the realities of cancer close to home. Had she been diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer and been given a short period of time to live, I’m honestly not sure what I would have done. It’s incomprehensible, really. We have the tendency to take life for granted, and in our own ignorance, think that we will wake up to see another day. To be told that a deadly disease has taken over your body—unexpectedly—is something that’s hard to imagine.
For James Rhio O’Connor, this is exactly what happened. He was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a deadly cancer commonly caused by exposure to asbestos, and given only one year to live. Being told by doctors that traditional treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation would do almost nothing, Rhio pursued his own path of treatment. Lance Armstrong once said, “If children have the ability to ignore all odds and percentages, then maybe we can all learn from them. When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope? We have two options, medically and emotionally: give up, or fight like hell.” The latter is exactly what Mr. O’Connor did, and from his decisions, a lot can be learned.
I would imagine that for anyone faced with a prognosis such as the one Rhio faced, it would be easy to give up and heed the advice of doctors. After all, they are the experts, and if they say that you only have a short period of time to live, it makes sense to trust their judgment and plan life accordingly. However, this is exactly what Mr. O’Connor did not do. Advised to take his wife on a cruise and then to summon the care of Hospice, he decided to pursue alternative treatments instead. I would like to think that I would have this much courage if I were faced with a similar situation.
If some friends and myself were playing a word association game, and someone gave me the word “cancer,” I would immediately think of chemotherapy. This treatment, along with radiation and surgery, falls into the category of established treatments—that is, treatments that are known to yield positive results, and are generally thought of as the most effective. Had I been told that these treatments would be virtually ineffective towards a cancer I had, it would leave me with one of two options. One, I could completely give up and try to make the most of the time that I have left on earth, or two, I could look into alternative treatments for cancer. There are two types of alternative treatments available: experimental and holistic. Experimental therapies are treatments that although available in the medical community, have not finished their testing for safety and effectiveness. Examples of these are angiogenesis therapy, immunotherapy, multimodality therapy, and so on. Holistic treatments are treatments such as relaxation, herbal supplements, and different dieting procedures.
Before I would make any decision, I would have to make sure I knew exactly what I was getting into. This would require immense amounts of research, on virtually every treatment available, and comparing the risks and the benefits of each side-by-side. Medical journals, manufacturers of cancer pharmaceuticals, case studies, and former patients are all places that I would look to for advice. If faced with experimental treatments that had not been tested yet or yielded a low success rate, I would seek numerous expert opinions. Although most healthcare professionals are skeptical of any treatment other than established treatments, specifically in the oncology department, there are still numerous organizations and experts that would also be willing to look outside the realm of traditional treatments and choose one, or a combination, of the alternative. Many organizations actually believe that alternative treatments are the only successful treatment, and specialize in just those. However, it’s important to keep in mind that results are often not seen right away. Research and opinion are extremely important for this reason. Once a treatment is selected, you have to be able to trust that it will do what it’s supposed to do.
James Rhio O’Connor ignored the odds given to him by his doctors. For anyone who has struggled, or is struggling with cancer, inspiration can be found in his story. For those who have never personally been faced with cancer such as myself, Rhio’s story can still offer a deeper outlook on life. We live in a world rich with knowledge and resources. By taking advantage of all that is available to us, making informed decisions, and always seeking the counsel of others, we can overcome statistics and odds. If Hollywood wanted to make the scariest horror film of all time, with the plot revolving around this villain known as cancer, it would have to remove one of the most foundational human elements from the victims of this evildoer: hope. Hope, as it turns out, cannot be erased from the character descriptions of each individual life. True, this villain is ultimately real, but as long as we possess the power of hope, no villain can ever completely destroy us.