Miracles happen everyday. In a situation where all the odds are against you, the only thing left to do is believe. If I was diagnosed with cancer and was told I only had one year to live, I would be terrified, but for every ounce of fear I had, I would have twice that in hope and determination. Once past the initial dismay, I would fill myself with hope through the stories of others who miraculously overcame similar circumstances. Not everyone has a fairy godmother, though. Reasoning that it would take more than hope and prayers to beat my cancer, I’d begin researching every possible cure and, with the help of my doctors, determine which options were best for me. If one plan proved to be unsuccessful, I’d undertake a new course of action rather than admit defeat. I would always stay strong, just like she did.
I met Matt at the beginning of my senior year of high school. One autumn night, just as our relationship was blossoming, I teased him for wearing a yellow Livestrong bracelet. “Everyone stopped wearing those in eighth grade!” I joked. That was when he told me his mom had cancer, and it was terminal. Dumbfounded, I listened to his story. She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of colon cancer when he was seven, then lung cancer a few years later. The doctors were never optimistic. Initially they told her she would be lucky to live through the year, but nearly twelve years had passed and she was still alive, even doing well.
That November I met her for the first time. I was nervous; I had never met a dying person before. She was younger than I expected, and her illness was apparent; my heart sank into my stomach, but hope glittered in her eyes. Their kitchen looked like a pharmacy with various prescription bottles and vitamins of all forms organized on overcrowded windowsills, seeping onto the counter. Seeing me noticing her collection, she said “I do everything I can to fight my disease”. She was very open about her situation, but I supposed that after twelve years of fighting she had the right to gloat about her success. She told me she had recently started eating a strictly organic diet because someone had told her it would help to cure her. “I accept all advice,” she smiled. “I’ve realized that there is nothing to lose by taking vitamins or eating organic.” Clearly she was doing something right, for there I was sharing a whole grain meal with a woman who was expected to have died when I was in the second grade.
I have never seen a mother love her children as much as she did; she would never let anything take her away from them without a fight. She was dying, but she did not let it control her remaining life. Up until her last months she continued working, and when she was not she took her family on exotic vacations. She was a child social worker, and I would bet almost anything that the children she helped never suspected the illness that was ever present as she strived to make their lives better; although she was not yet ready for heaven, she was their angel. To her, cancer was only a minor setback in her routines. She spent her time celebrating life rather than dwelling on death.
No amount of prayers, luck, or medications could have kept her alive forever. After hearing, “you have only six months to live” on over ten separate occasions, it eventually became true. As graduation approached, her cancer was spreading steadily and her health was rapidly declining. Then the doctors found a brain tumor. Matt told me that she had never been this bad, and that she had told him recently that she was fearing death for the first time. That day he got her initials tattooed on his wrist. J.L.H. I knew in my heart that she would be there to watch him walk across the stage and receive his diploma, but I was not sure how long she would hold on passed that. By the end of summer the cancer had defeated her, but her battle had been an admirable one.
If I were to find myself in such a situation, her life would be my inspiration. I would relentlessly search for a cure, while also allowing myself to savor life. I would not take a single moment for granted, nor would I disregard any suggested treatment. If an intensive therapy like chemo or radiation was my best option, I would opt for it even if that meant extreme weakness or hair loss. If invasive surgery predicted the best results, I would go through with it. If there were an experimental but optimistic means, I would consider it when more promising options failed. When selections began to run low, I would spend my time planning events and fundraisers to raise money for cancer research, so the search for a cure would continue even after my life was lost. In my final days I would be with my family, making arrangements for them to be taken care of after my passing. If I were told I was dying I would continue living, just like she did.
Her story is in many ways similar to that of James “Rhio” O’Connor, who fought hard against his own cancer. But the cancer he struggled against, mesothelioma, is much rarer and had been deemed incurable. Mesothelioma is a cancer that attacks the mesothelium, which is the cover that protects most of the body’s internal organs. Once diagnosed, patients like Rhio are often given about a year to live. But Rhio defied these odds, re-writing history as he survived for over six years with his disease. He relentlessly researched all treatment options, collaborating with researchers, doctors, and patients to create the perfect therapy plan for himself. A learned expert on mesothelioma, Rhio’s self-prescribed protocol kept him alive for longer than anyone could have imagined. For more information about mesothelioma or Rhio O’Connor, you can visit www.survivingmesothelioma.com. Stories like Rhio’s, or that of J.L.H., are rare but not unheard of, and can instill hope to anyone fighting a similar battle.