Reed, Jeff

“You have incurable cancer.” What would it feel like to hear these words? Would it cause your stomach to churn? Would you scream or cry in anguish? Would you just give up and wait for pending death? I can’t even imagine all the conflicting emotions Rhio O’Connor experienced when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and told he had only one year live. Rhio O’Connor’s battle with mesothelioma is an amazing story of tremendous courage and inspiration. He bravely decided that life was worth fighting for and sitting waiting for death was not an option. Through his perseverance and drive, incredibly, he managed to live 6 years longer than any of the doctors expected.

Mesothelioma is a term one might hear occasionally on a television commercial advertising an attorney’s office. The term itself has an air of dread. What is this mysterious disease? According to www.wikipedia.com, Mesothelioma is defined as : Mesothelioma, more precisely malignant mesothelioma, is a rare form of cancer that develops from the protective lining that covers many of the body’s internal organs, the mesothelium. Its most common site is the pleura (outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall), but it may also occur in the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity), the heart,[1] the pericardium (a sac that surrounds the heart) or tunica vaginalis. And it is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. There are other types of mesothelioma as well and all of them have different survival rates and different treatment success.

With tremendous sadness I realize that a great deal my knowledge of cancer comes from second hand experience with this deadly disease. Cancer is a subject which has plagued my life for many years. I have two close friends; one who recently had to endure a bone marrow transplant and painful chemotherapy treatments and another who was told she only had twelve months to live yet she remains alive today, five years later, still fighting the fight!! My own sister, a young forty year old woman, has been struggling with various forms of cancer for over twenty years even though the doctors told her initially she had only six months to live. Lastly, I watched my father battle cancer for two painful years before he lost his life to this dreaded disease. To a point I can understand what it means to emotionally accept and fight a disease that kills, but, standing on the outside, I suppose I will never truly understand. Through my loved ones fight with cancer, however, I have been able to acquire a vast amount of resources to rely on, everything from where to get treatment to how to do research.

So, I have been given a dire cancer prognosis. Although this is a purely hypothetical situation, just the mere thought creates feelings of shock and panic. So many things I would want to accomplish. So many precious moments I would miss. I would never get the chance to see my children grow up and I would miss the years of growing old with my wife. A year just would not be enough time to spend with my family. As shocking as the news would be, however, Rhio’s determination and plight has completely changed my mindset. I doubt, at this point, I would sit and feel sorry for myself if I were given such devastating news even though I know very little about mesothelioma. With as much optimism as I could muster, I would dive into educating myself, by aggressively looking online for forums, blogs or websites like www.survivingmesothelioma.com to learn about the cancer, how it works and what to expect as well as finding out about all forms of treatment. The library would be another excellent source of free information on the disease itself and on ordinary and alternative treatments. I would research the very best treatment centers so I could speak to the most knowledgeable specialists available.

I am fortunate enough to have advantages over other people. My Christian faith is very strong and praying is already a part of my daily life. My belief system has instilled in me a “knowing” that God uses painful trials to mold me into a better person. It is during these trials that I rely on faith to guide my life, filling me with a sense of peace. With peace comes the ability to reason clearly enabling me to be discerning as I researched without getting caught up in the downward spiral of emotions. There will be situations that end in death, but the Bible teaches me how to move forward in spite of these earthly “certains.” I have seen too many miracles involving family and friends where cancer is concerned to doubt that God would open doors for my treatment.

As I’ve sat back and thought about the people in my life who have been able to persevere through and sometimes even beat cancer in spite of all odds set against them, I found that they all carried some very common traits. All of them were tenacious and simply not willing to settle for a death sentence! All of them had a positive outlook on their life. All of them had a tremendous amount of courage, after all, who can begin to understand the amount of courage it would take to get out of bed every day and face life, and potential death, head on. All of my loved ones prioritized their lives. Facing cancer forced them to evaluate their lives every day and prioritize. Knowing that your time is finite allows you to look through very different “life lenses.”

In closing, I don’t know if Mr. O’Connor intended to leave behind a legacy, but one day I may have to rely on his story and others like his for inspiration to keep on pushing through life. His story will enable me to find the courage to get up everyday with a positive attitude and face my disease rather than just sit and wait for death. This is James Rhio O’Connor’s legacy.

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