Phillips, Tiara | Surviving Mesothelioma

Phillips, Tiara

I’m only 20 years old, and I’ve had my share of hardships. When I was 16, my best friend Aaron was diagnosed with a rare disease called aplastic anemia; anemia due to failure of the bone marrow to produce blood cells, including red and white blood cells as well as platelets; he died three weeks after. That was real tough. When I was 18, Taima, another one of my close friends was diagnosed with cancer. She was only 16 at the time and unfortunately cancer runs in her family. Luckily, her cancer has gone into remission.

I’m in college now and still having my fair share ups and downs. My parents can’t afford to help me financially through college so I have to pave my own way. I found a job but was laid-off a few months after so money has became the issue. Sadly, I was dismissed from CSU Chico after my freshman year for being truant and not keeping my grades up. I have myself to blame for that mishap. Kal Menninger once said, “Unrest of spirit is a mark of life; one problem after another presents itself and in the solving of them we can find our greatest pleasure.” James O’Connor was able to live this quote by finding a solution to his problem.

Fewer than 10 percent of mesothelioma patients live five years, even with second generation chemotherapy agents like Alimta, combination therapies, and radical surgery to remove tumors. Mesothelioma Story: Survivor Documents Treatment Plan That Helped Him Outlive Doctors’ Forecast (July 28, 2009).

At age 61, James O’Connor was diagnosed with mesothelioma; a rare form of cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the body’s internal organs (https://survivingmesothelioma.com/basics.cfm). His doctors encouraged him to willingly accept his fate, but he was not one to concede defeat. The location of his tumor near his spine signified no surgical treatment could be done so he took the nutritional therapy route by changing his diet and taking more than 100 supplements a day. His inspiration to do so came from Hippocrates who once said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” With this quote as his encouragement, he educated himself on the “various therapies offered, their long and short term side effects, and the theories and philosophies behind them” (http://www.cancermonthly.com/scholarship.asp). He was determined not to let this disease be his downfall and it wasn’t. He outlived the doctors prognosis and was able to witness 7 1/2 more years of viability.

If I was faced with that same outcome, I would ask the doctor if it was localized; cancer found only on the membrane surface where it originated, or advanced; cancer that has spread beyond the original membrane surface to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, chest wall, or abdominal organs (https://survivingmesothelioma.com/basics.cfm). Thankfully, my mesothelioma is localized so the next step would be to locate the nearest Cancer Treatment Center of America (CTCA) to figure out the best solution with their clinicians. I would want to go there because they symbolize hope and that would be the thing I would need. They not only provide an integrative treatment plan; a plan that expands the boundaries of conventional care by bringing together traditional tools for fighting cancer, such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and biotherapy, with complementary therapies, including nutritional support, naturopathic medicine, mind-body medicine, oncology rehabilitation, pain management, and spiritual support, but they have surgical oncologists specialized to assist me in finding the best treatment options.

My first option would be to see if I could undergo surgery; it is the oldest form of treating cancer and can also have an important role in diagnosing and staging of cancer. Unfortunately, the mesothelioma is too close to my spine forcing me to look into different treatments.

There are three other conventional medical treatments: chemotherapy, radiation, and biotherapy. Chemotherapy is a “group of drugs used to preferentially kill the tumor in set time periods” (Dr. Rudolf Willis). It may be used in addition to other conventional methods or by itself. It targets the faster growing cells including cancer cells in hopes of killing the tumor. Unfortunately, chemotherapy can have many side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, hair loss and mouth sores, but new approaches are being made to try to reduce these side effects. Next is radiation; it uses high-energy rays to either destroy or delay the growth of tumors. New methods continue to be developed, enabling more focused delivery of higher doses of radiation that limits its effect on healthy cells. Although advances have been made in radiation, it still can damage the healthy tissue and produce side effects. Last is biotherapy or immunotherapy; t uses your body’s natural defenses against mesothelioma. Your immune system can be used as a powerful tool, enabling you to stop, control, suppress, or alter cancer cell growth. Interferons are used to help the body attack the cancer. Flu-like symptoms occur with every injection but diminish with repeated use.

The CTCA also provides complimentary medicine therapies to help reduce side effects and improve your overall quality of life during and after mesothelioma treatment such as: nutritional therapy, pain management, naturopathic medicine, and spiritual support. The combination of the different treatments and complimentary medicine therapies promotes the fight of your body with the cancer cells in the most effective way possible depending on the patient.

Since my mesothelioma is localized but too close to my spine to undergo surgery; my best solution would be to do the biotherapy with the incorporation of nutritional therapy and naturopathic medicines and if possible, do some exercises to help boost my immune system to fight off my cancer. Biotherapy may cause flu-like symptoms, but the symptoms reduce the more you use it. Biotherapy is a more natural approach to killing off the cancer cells because it utilizes your own bodies natural defenses without killing off your healthy cells and causing numerous side effects. I would choose nutritional therapy to help against malnutrition since it is an important factor when dealing with cancer and would enhance my progress in biotherapy. Lastly, the naturopathic medicines use the healing powers of nature to restore and maintain health. If I were to win the fight against mesothelioma I would want to do it in the most natural and efficient way as possible.

James O’Connor never let his cancer influence his life or his character in a pessimistic way and I too carry that same ideology. I have taken all the negative aspects that have plagued my life and molded them into something positive. I have enrolled myself at Butte College to earn a degree in graphic design. After I have obtained my degree I will enroll in the Fire Academy to become a firefighter as my career. I refer to my dismissal from CSU Chico as my “blessing in disguise” because it helped me get my life together and plan my future which I am grateful.

I may not have had to battle cancer like James O’Connor, but my life does correlate to his in a way. His diagnosis of cancer was inauspicious; my dismissal from CSU Chico too was unfavorable. He researched how to overcome his obstacle; I too have put in the research to overcome my dismissal obstacle to get my career back on track. He was able to find a solution to beat mesothelioma; I too would love to obtain my solution to my financial problems with the help of this scholarship, but with or without this scholarship I will overcome my obstacles in aspirations of spreading hope and inspiration as James O’Connor did. His legacy still lives on and I too wish to achieve such an honor. His motivational story reminds me of a quote to conclude this essay by Edgar Allen Poe which states, “The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where one ends, and the other begins?”

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