Piper, Leanne | Surviving Mesothelioma

Piper, Leanne

A Beacon of Inspiration

Just as a flower blooms in the barren desert, so does inspiration and hope in the story of James Rhio O’Connor (“Rhio”) and his struggle with the deadly cancer mesothelioma. Rhio lived by the principles of self education and self inspiration and strived to encourage others to fight the odds as he did. This valiant man was struck by a type of cancer that is like a sleeping evil that awakes and poisons its victim. Rhio was diagnosed by his oncologist at sixty one years of age and told that he had one year to live. He was told that surgery was not possible because the tumor was too close to his spine and that chemotherapy would decrease his quality of life without lengthening his life. He was advised by his physician to go on a cruise with his wife and get his affairs in order. Instead of succumbing to the mind-numbing fear associated with his cancer prognosis, Rhio took steps to change his life and defeat the beast called mesothelioma. Due to his courage and determination he survived for seven and a half more years (six and a half years beyond his doctor’s prognosis). His story inspires me because of his commitment to self education, fortitude to act, and optimistic spirit and belief in something greater than himself, which causes me to consider the steps I would take if faced by a similar threat.

A major risk factor leading to mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos in the work place. The symptoms of this cancer may include shortness of breath, chest pain, weight loss, abdominal pain, bowel obstruction, blood clotting abnormalities, anemia and fever. Unfortunately these symptoms may not appear for thirty to fifty years after asbestos exposure and can be warning signs of a number of other conditions. A positive diagnosis requires a biopsy of the mesothelioma, which is examined under a microscope by a pathologist. This lethal cancer invades the mesothelium which is a membrane that covers and protects most of the internal organs of the body. The cancer causes the cells to become abnormal and divide out of control, invading other nearby tissues and organs. It can also metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. Conventional treatments are generally not curative and include surgery, radiation therapy and chemo therapy. More detailed information on mesothelioma is available through Cancer Monthly’s authoritative mesothelioma survivors’ website www.survivingmesothelioma.com.

Rhio’s story inspires me because he did not give up when faced with a daunting terminal prognosis. His determination to survive his cancer is very encouraging to me. He approached the situation with courage and action. His research and efforts paid off in more years of life. He showed wisdom as he searched for understanding about his cancer and his treatment options. I really respect his thorough approach. Because of his self-education Rhio was able to exercise informed consent and choose the practitioners who were best suited to help him. It is critical that as a patient you know enough about your condition to intelligently choose your doctors. He took charge of his own health and fashioned a treatment protocol that lengthened his life dramatically. Rhio’s story can be inspirational to people fighting all different diseases because he is a wonderful example of what miracles can come from faith perseverance. The story of his personal odyssey is an motivation to others, especially someone facing a dire prognosis like his.

I faced a melanoma diagnosis at the age of twenty one. My husband was overseas serving as a US Army combat medic in Afghanistan at the time of my diagnosis. Being told that you have cancer is intimidating and depressing. Once you have had cancer you never feel safe and invincible again. Health is easy to take for granted, especially before a positive cancer diagnosis. Although my cancer was a much less life-threatening diagnosis than Rhio’s, it was a thoroughly frightening experience. Not only did I change my diet but I also sought help from God. Rhio’s consistent effort to keep an optimistic outlook through times of great stress is an example that I find inspiring. I also looked to family and friends for encouragement when I felt week. Hope and faith played a role in my therapies and life as I fought to defeat my melanoma. Months later after minor surgery I am now living cancer free and appreciating every moment.

There are a number of steps that I would take if I faced a dire cancer diagnosis like Rhio’s. First, I would take a cue from his story and make sure that I didn’t allow myself to give up. Rhio fought valiantly against his cancer and I would like to do the same. I would intensively research my cancer through library and internet sources. There is some very good information on the internet regarding cancer therapies and efficiency. I would extend my research to therapies available in other countries including Mexico, Germany and other countries in Europe. I would leave no stone unturned or any avenue unexplored. Rhio was assured that conventional therapies would not work. In light of that, I would go beyond the standard chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery and extensively research every possible alternative therapy. As a part of this exhaustive search, I would also speak to as many doctors, patients, and researchers as possible. All available therapies would be explored along with the theories behind them and their short and long term effects. As a result of this comprehensive approach, I would strive to reach a point like Rhio did where I was able to exercise informed consent regarding my choice of doctors and treatments.

Following the example set by Rhio, I would act on the knowledge I had gained through my research. I would help to fashion my own treatment regimen. I would determine which supplements to take, change my diet and adopt any practices of mind body medicine that would enhance my survival. I would then carefully choose the doctors and other professionals to help me based on my research. I would maintain a posture of constant evaluation as the chosen therapies showed whether they were working or not. I would pursue the chosen protocols consistently just as Rhio did. Rhio’s optimistic spirit and belief in something greater than himself also inspired me. His story is one of hope for the afflicted. It is a well known fact that those who have hope and an optimistic outlook have a higher survival rate in regards to fighting something like mesothelioma. The body responds positively to a more upbeat attitude when it is fighting to get well.

In conclusion, Rhio’s story inspires me because of his commitment to self-education, self-inspiration and belief in something greater than himself. His life exemplifies the way I would like to respond to a similar threat. Rather than succumb to fear and despair after his deadly diagnosis, Rhio fought back. He refused to give up and pressed forward to beat the gnarly beast of mesothelioma. His giant effort to educate himself resulted in his ability to intelligently take charge of his own health. He was able to thoroughly research his cancer and fashion a treatment protocol based on his findings. The result of his efforts was the rewarding six and a half years that he lived beyond his oncologist’s diagnosis. People facing all types of cancer or any other disease can learn from Rhio’s uplifting and courageous story. This experience can apply to people in all walks of life dealing with any kind of hardship can learn from the principles Rhio lived by. Look ahead with faith and persevering hope for the future.

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