Peña, Paul – Surviving Mesothelioma

Peña, Paul

James “Rhio” O’Connor: A Legacy of Hope

Perhaps the most defining quality of humanity is not our intelligence or our bravery or our ability to create societies, but instead the innate ability to hope. To hope for that furry puppy when Christmas comes around, to hope for that car when turning sixteen, to hope for that acceptance to the school of our dreams; but most of all, above all other things, to hope for and strive for a beautiful life. Indeed as the movie Hitch so eloquently states, “life is not the amount of breaths you take – it’s the moments that take your breath away”. It is this phenomenon – the innate and incredible hope and appreciation for life – that defines humanity so superbly. Every human being naturally strives to give purpose to and fulfill his or her life. This is no coincidence or product of social conditioning; it is the driving force of us all. Whether Christian or Jew or Muslim or Wiccan, or agnostic or atheist or anything else, all humans agree that life is about fulfilling something. That something is not the same for you, or for me, or for the next person; it is specific and personal to each of us. Often people go through life not knowing exactly what that something is. While this does not ruin one’s life, it is certainly more preferred to find that something.

James “Rhio” O’Connor did just that: he found his something, and he did not let it rule him. More unfortunate than not finding one’s something, is the tragedy of finding one’s something and being ruled by it. More often than not the things that define us as individuals are trials, small and large. James’ trial came, and he did not let it rule him. He flourished, and rose to the true potential waiting inside of him. This is life, in all of its beauty and splendor: to hope through all the trials and tragedies and horrors, and become ever more magnificent as a human being.

I have grown up in poverty since the day I was born. I was raised in section-8 public housing, and was happy not when giving a shining new pair of shoes, but instead a pair of shoes at all. Throughout my childhood, the dedicated and sincere contributions of social workers gave me and my peers opportunities and experiences that we otherwise would never have. I was blessed with a natural inclination for intelligence, and this showed in my schoolwork. As high school came to a close, I was offered acceptance to many schools I would have never even fathomed attending, such as the one I have chosen to attend – Yale University. All of this is no bragging point, no point of triumph or greatness. Growing up in constant squalor is not something to flaunt or parade, it is something to learn from and grow from, and having done so has given me an appreciation of life that few others can have. Trials come to us, whether by God or coincidence, and they are meant to happen. It is a sad story of a person who believes that bad things simply happen because they do, without rhyme or reason. Though those who believe that this is true may think that they are happy, it is no shining life that is created from such hopelessness. I, like the great Mr. O’Connor, will not be defeated by the trials life hands me. I, as do all other human beings, have the marvelous capability to uncover and embrace my truest and greatest potential through the trials I am faced with.

James O’Connor was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma at the age of sixty-one. The outlook was not good. But he spent the next eight years of his life – until his death in 2009 – dedicated to finding the most sufficient and practical ways to treat himself and fulfill his life. If given this same dire cancer prognosis, I too would reject to accept it, as Mr. O’Connor did. I would not consent to traveling to places around the world and experiencing life, and then simply give up and wait for the end. My grandmother died from leukemia, and my aunt, in her forties, is working hard to prevent what doctors say are clear signs of approaching leukemia. My generation of the family also has this propensity to leukemia. It is no laughing matter, but we do not let this disturb us or worry us. Life will happen as it will, and if cancer becomes a part of our life, so be it. Given a dire prognosis, I would not simply get my life in order and wait to be done.

I would prepare myself and my loved ones for the possibility of what could happen, and set out to make that possibility less so. I would search the internet and the profiles of specialists nationwide and globally, and find the people most suited to help me in my research. Were it leukemia, I would find the most experienced and dedicated hematologists and oncologists, and work as much as possible to set out the treatment necessary to defeat such a dire outlook. Chemo, radiation and surgery would do little for such a strong leukemia, and I would look past these treatments if they had little to offer. There is no point in wasting valuable time in trying what may amount to nothing. This is, of course, not to say that giving these procedures a valid try would not be worth one’s time. Instead, I would consider the outcome of each of these things, and perhaps see how they worked, but if given no true effect from the procedures then I would look beyond these things.

My family has a history, whether directly because of or in conjunction with the history of leukemia, of low blood iron. Eating iron-rich foods is not only good for general health; it would be especially helpful for maintaining the epitome of my blood’s strength. I would strive to find and receive a bone marrow transplant from someone with healthy blood, as this can help in creating new cells within the bone marrow and blood to fight leukemia. The great data of many studies has provided today’s world with a great array of antileukemic drugs. These would help to avoid chemotherapy, surgery or radiation, and would also chemically and internally fight the spread of the condition. Combining a daily regimen of proper antileukemic drugs and blood-strengthening foods, great strides could be made toward fighting my leukemia. The medical world is greatly focused upon the prevention and fighting of cancer, and I could start my search by talking with the nearest oncologists and hematologists in my area. I would talk to hospitals, clinics, specialists, and treatment centers, and get references to as many specialists and experts I could. I would spend each day meeting with and combining the thoughts and suggestions of each person I talked with, and would find and delve into every publication and study and book about leukemia that I could find. After gathering every possible piece of information, I would chart out which methods and procedures would give me the best outlook and be the best for my life and my family to handle. I would find the most prominent researchers in the fields of cancer, leukemia and blood and have each study and gauge my specific condition. The results of these self-studies, along with the published results and methods of treatment, would help me to better focus in on what I needed to do for my personal situation. This process – of gathering all possible knowledge of the subject, applying the knowledge to my personal condition, and combining proper food and medicinal intake – would be the greatest way to treat such a dire prognosis. Humans thrive in being defined and validated – it is in working and discovering every possibility of my treatment that I will better help myself. Giving myself a mission and goal to meet, and setting out to accomplish the goal, would in and of itself provide healing for my mental and emotional strength, and in doing so lend to healing my body.

James “Rhio” O’Connor was a man who emulated the beauty of humanity: hope. He was faced with the trial of a lifetime, and used that trial to build his hope and fulfill his life to epitome of its potential. I too would follow this brilliant example. Let the world see that no situation is hopeless. Let us all learn from an unprecedented man that life is not to be lost or condemned because of our trials. Let us never forget that through every misfortune and calamity of life there stands the opportunity to reach our true potential, and in doing so we continue and expand the great legacy of humanity: the legacy of hope.

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