Survival Story

Survival Story

Perseverance has been defined as “steady persistence in adhering to a course of action, a belief, or a purpose; steadfastness” (American Heritage College Dictionary, 2002). Perseverance calls for strength of will, courage of heart, and a stubborn optimism that refuses to give up. Perseverance is the stuff of heroes and separates the fighters from those who abandon hope.

When I consider the life of James Rhio O’Connor, there is not a better word that comes to my mind than perseverance. O’Connor was sixty-one years old when he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a cancer that was expected to take his life within a year (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, James Rhio O’Connor). Faced with such a dire prognosis, what choice did he have, but to consent to spending his last days enjoying family and slipping quietly away?

But quietly was not the way for James Rhio O’Connor. Perseverance made this man a fighter, as he believed there was hope for life to go on, not simply to fade. Determination made him seek out clinicians who helped him develop his own plan of treatment, unique for his body’s needs (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, James Rhio O’Connor). Here was a man thinking and acting outside the box of medical expectations that had been placed on him.

Supplements were an important part of O’Connor’s treatment. At one point, he was taking around one hundred pills in a day (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, James Rhio O’Connor)! This reveals that his life was by no means easy, but he was willing to keep fighting to sustain it. Another important part of O’Connor’s approach to survival involved mind-body medicine (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, James Rhio O’Connor). James O’Connor recognized the importance of having a healthy mind, which allowed him to maintain a strong resolution to go on living.

Despite his initial prognosis of one year, O’Connor lived seven and a half years more, dying at the age of sixty-nine (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, James Rhio O’Connor). His persistent fight for survival is truly inspirational. It took hard work, time, money, and sacrifice, but he lived. Reading about this man’s victory causes me to consider what I would do in a similar situation. Before I discuss how I would approach this, I think it is important to learn a bit more about the nature, treatments, and outcomes of mesothelioma, the cancer that led to O’Connor’s fight for life.

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that involves malignant cells in the mesothelium, a membrane covering most internal organs in the human body (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, Mesothelioma Basics). This membrane serves to protect our vital organs, such as our lungs and heart. Mesothelioma causes cells in the membrane to divide and then damage organs and tissues (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, Mesothelioma Basics). As in many forms of cancer, the damage caused by these cells can be fatal. One of the major risk factors for developing mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, Mesothelioma Basics). By examining this list, it is clear that industrial workplaces can pose significant risks of mesothelioma.

The symptoms of mesothelioma vary, based on where the cancer is located in the body. For example, pleural mesothelioma is found in the covering of the lungs, leading to shortness of breath and chest pain (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, Mesothelioma Basics). The symptoms reflect where the cancerous cells are attacking. Peritoneal mesothelioma involves fluid buildup in the abdomen, causing symptoms like weight loss, abdominal pain, bowel obstruction, anemia, fever, and more (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, Mesothelioma Basics). Such symptoms as these allow physicians to begin diagnosing the cancer.

When a patient presents with symptoms of possible mesothelioma, doctors begin diagnosis by taking a medical history, including asbestos exposure (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, Mesothelioma Basics). This is the first step in determining the nature of the problem. Next, doctors may perform a physical examination, X-rays, lung function tests, a CT scan, and an MRI (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, Mesothelioma Basics). None of these are invasive procedures, but they allow doctors to further assess the medical problem. Finally, a surgical biopsy, in which tissue is removed for examination, is used to confirm the diagnosis (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, Mesothelioma Basics). Once a diagnosis has been made, the patient may be presented with treatment options.

Treatment for mesothelioma also varies, depending on factors like stage and location of the cancer and health of the patient (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, Mesothelioma Basics). Patients and doctors may choose a treatment based on the quality and duration of life that will be offered. Some of the treatment options are surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, but there are doctors who argue that the benefits of these are not significant enough (Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009, Mesothelioma Basics). While traditional treatment options may provide temporary relief from symptoms, it appears that the advantages may not always be worth the negative side effects caused by them.

Now that we have gathered more information on mesothelioma, I can imagine what my response would be if I were suddenly diagnosed with this disease. The first step I would take would be to learn all I could from my doctor about the stage of my cancer and the expected duration of my life. I would ask what options I had for treatment, both traditional and alternative, and I would specifically ask for comparisons in quality and duration of life. If I was given a significant amount of time and a good likelihood of benefit from traditional treatments like chemotherapy or surgery, I would consent to that. However, if the prognosis was that I would not live long and my quality of life would suffer, I would opt for alternative methods of treatment.

Research would be necessary, and I would tackle that with determination to find the best solution possible. In order to do so, I would find resources in libraries and on respected websites that deal with mesothelioma. I would also search out medical journals that had published articles or works on this topic. I would seek counsel from various medical professionals, including doctors and nutritionists. I would also contact others who were diagnosed with mesothelioma and were fighting it by alternative means. I would find out what had worked and not worked for them, as well as ask them for support resources in this difficult time.

In addition to all of this research, it would be of the utmost importance to me that my family and close friends were supporting me. They would provide compassion, encouragement, a shoulder to cry on, and a voice that says, “Keep going”. As in so many difficult times past, they would be there when I was ready to give up.

Beyond all of this, I have every faith that God would see me through. If I were suddenly told that I was dying, I am confident that God’s love and presence would be the strongest rock I could stand on. He would be the hope that never failed and the hand that kept me from falling.

James Rhio O’Connor was a man of perseverance. He found a way to survive what many must have thought was impossible. He refused to give up and held onto hope that life was still worth living. As I said before, perseverance is the stuff of heroes, heroes like James Rhio O’Connor.

Perseverance. (2002). American Heritage College Dictionary (p. 1038, 4th ed.). Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company
Cancer Monthly Inc. (2005-2009). James Rhio O’Connor. Surviving Mesothelioma: A Patient’s
Guide. Retrieved February 24, 2010, from
Cancer Monthly Inc. (2005-2009). Mesothelioma Basics. Surviving Mesothelioma: A Patient’s
Guide. Retrieved February 24, 2010, from

By: Pratt, Nicole

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