A few weeks ago at our dinner table, my mother mentioned that she planned to lend our blender to a coworker who had terminal cancer and was planning to begin experimenting with raw food diets. When the woman came by with her daughter, my feet involuntarily led me upstairs to my room. Somehow I couldn’t bring myself to meet this woman, to see her daughter by her side, loving and anxious… to think of the frailty of the hope that a raw foods diet could cure a death sentence.
My mind flashed to a memory of the previous spring, when I’d participated in a local Relay for Life with a team from my college. At first I had felt excited about the novelty of staying up all night and fighting for a cause. It was pleasurable to put down blankets in the tent and greet people and be a part of the excitement, to get a T-shirt and be praised for being “part of the solution.” But as dusk came and the white bags around the track were light with candles, the reality behind the fanfare began to sink in, and I had the same lump in my stomach that I felt now.
Somehow, though the night gave me some hope, it left me with more frustration. What good had we truly done, beyond comforting victim’s families? The skeptical voice in my head thought that in the battle against cancer, just as in the Relay for Life, it felt everyone was merely going in circles in the dark, without new leads, without genuine hope for a cure.
The lump got larger as I thought of Wheezy. Wheezy, or Louise, was a woman my sister and I grew up knowing whose daughter was a close friend of my mother. We would often go to her home in Plymouth, a place that seemed magical to us as children. It was low-ceilinged but large house, full of beautiful oil paintings both she and her daughter had done. At age 70, Wheezy wouldn’t hesitate to take a dip in the freezing ocean that was minutes from her home. She was always vibrant, with her bubbling laugh and surprising eyes – eyes a charged silvery blue that made me think of the way it feels to watch heat lightening over an ocean when you are at sea and it’s all around you – that kind of mysterious excitement.
Even near the end of her life, when we visited after her diagnosis of lung cancer, every other word out of her mouth seemed to be “marvelous.” It was marvelous that we had come. The lunch was marvelous. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if she paid for my father to have a piano lesson? But Wheezy was a Christian Scientist, and as a result, was very resistant to the idea of conventional treatment. And at such a late stage of such a serious cancer, her children could do little to protest. A few weeks later, Wheezy passed away, still smiling. Every time I hear the word optimism, she is the first person that comes to my mind.
Is there hope for people who either have a form of cancer that isn’t very responsive to treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, or for people who, like Wheezy, have a moral code that restricts them from making use of modern medicine?
The most hopeful case I have ever heard about is that of James Rhio O’Connor. In 2008, he published a book entitled “They Said Months, I Chose Years!” about his experience battling mesothelioma (cancer of the mesothelia, a layer of tissue surrounding the internal organs, usually caused by exposure to asbestos. To learn more, visit www.survivingmesothelioma.com). His doctors were telling him to simply accept the fact that he had less than a year to live, and use the time to be with his family and rest. But instead, James took the risk of lost time with loved ones to do research on natural remedies and ultimately outlived his prognosis by over 6 years.
He researched the food industry and found that so many pesticides and appearance-enhancement chemicals are used on produce, and so many antibiotics are pumped into animals in the meat industry, that often the body’s immune system is spent trying to rid itself of these invaders, that it can’t as easily “focus” on ridding itself of illnesses, cancer included. The white blood cells fight the little armies and have no resources left for the dragons.
James Rhio must have endured a lot of skepticism from those close to him. Why was he spending hundreds of dollars per month on vitamins and supplements and natural foods that weren’t guaranteed to help? Why was he spending hundreds of hours in libraries doing research on a fatal disease? Shouldn’t he spend his limited time left focusing on loved ones, and his money on making the most of the time he had rather than pouring his energy into seeking an elusive cure to cheat an inevitable fate?
James Rhio Oconnor’s struggle reminds me of the struggle described in the Old Testament as “Jacob’s Trouble” in which Jacob wrestles with God, saying “I will not let you go until you bless me.” All night, he wrestled with this mysterious Divine Being and by the morning, he is victorious. Thus, his name is changed from “Jacob”, Hebrew for “worm” to “Israel” meaning “one who struggled with God and prevails.” It was only unprompted, faith-filled persistence that made him go on to be a great patriarch.
In the same way, James Rhio Occonnor wrestled with his fate. He must have had doubts about his choice to persist in searching for a natural cure, yet he had the faith to persist not only for himself, but for those who would following the trail he blazed. His success story is a light of inspiration not only to those affected by various forms of cancer, but to those who have stood up to defy the impossible, to anyone who has wrestled with what seemed to be fate and come out victorious.
I like to hope that in James Rhio’s situation, I would do the same thing. I hope I would have the courage not to remain hopeless, not to believe the voices of doom, but to reach a dead end and look for a trail. I very much believe that the body is still as vast a mystery as the universe. And that where there is life, there is hope. For James, surgery was not an option and radiation was unlikely to be effective, and would have decreased his quality of life even if it did increase his length of life by a small amount. So if in his scenario, I would try to dig my way to the roots, like he did, not clip the branches. Pure nutrition and a positive mental attitude were proven better remedies than anything modern medicine could offer.
I was particularly interested in James Rhio’s focus on mind body remedies. He acknowledged the power of the placebo effect in various scientific studies, and did all he could to live out the philosophy that our mental attitudes affect our health in powerful ways, like an unseen current.
Anyone who does face the same challenges that Rhio faced now has many more success stories to follow based on the work he did, and the book he wrote about his success. I have never had to face a challenge as trying as a dire cancer prognosis. When I think of impossibilities in my life, I think of rubiks cubes. Not really… but still, it is hard to imagine coming up against that kind of a wall. But his story is a testimony to the fact that persistence means everything. With faith and effort, nothing is an impossibility.
So perhaps, when my mother’s coworker comes to return the blender, I will have the courage to come down the stairs.