Rice, Jasmen – Surviving Mesothelioma

Rice, Jasmen

James “Rhio” O’Connor: The Fighter Within

So many people question life when faced with even the most menial of concerns, compared to James “Rhio” O’Connor’s terminal diagnosis. I know that I have worried myself to the point of sleepless nights, fretting about how I will pay for my education and take the burden off of my mother, but those thoughts are nothing compared to “How will my family go on without me?”, “How do I embrace death?”, “Do I just give up because the doctor says that I don’t have long to live or do I fight?”. I suppose that those thoughts ran through O’Connor’s mind when he first received his diagnosis .It is evident that O’Connor fought for his life, living past his one year prognosis by more than six years. I am ashamed to say that I had never heard James O’Connor’s story prior to this opportunity, but I am forever changed by knowing at least a part of him, his battle. Because he had the audacity to not give up; to look death in the eye and proclaim that he wasn’t ready to go yet; to rebel against the norm of his situation and rebuke depression and self-loathing, James “Rhio” O’Connor has become the poster child of a fighter; a soldier in the field of life. To wear such courage in the face of death takes spirit and strength beyond measure. For that, I am truly in awe and inspired. I no longer see my problems as problems, for that implies trouble ahead. Instead, thanks to O’Connor’s story, I see my problems as challenges, something that stimulates my being to conquer it. I no longer see my financial situation and family life as problematic. They are challenges, which I am assured that I can overcome, such as Rhio O’Connor overcame his terminal illness.

By God’s grace, I have never had to experience such a hardship as being diagnosed with a deadly cancer. The truth of the matter is that although I feel that I’ve made extremely hard decisions in my short life, none of those decisions come close to O’Connor’s decision to fight, to live, and to beat his cancer. If I were to be in his shoes, I would fight as well. My reasons would be selfless and selfish if you will. My selfless reasons are that I would never want my mother and two older brothers to have to plan my funeral. To put them through such heartache is not in my character. In addition, I know that I have so much to offer the world and that I have a purpose here on this Earth. I want to help people in any way that I can, so that in itself would be a driving force for my will to live. My selfish reason is that I want to accomplish my dream to become a clinical psychologist. I’ve invested so much of myself in making this dream a reality because I know that this is my calling. All of that work would be in vain if I were to just give up in the face of a terminal illness. I’m not one to give up on anything, so I would definitely fight my hardest to beat my illness.

My path to recovery would not be easy, as Plato’s cave dwellers who sought enlightenment would attest. The road would be painful, depressing, and tumultuous, but the end result would be the most beautiful sight: myself recovered and stronger and wiser than ever. The very second after I’d have heard my diagnosis and prognosis, I would begin to pray. My spirituality has gotten me through some of the roughest patches in my life, and I have never regretted having faith in something that’s not visible. I would pray that I survive whatever may be ailing me, that my family would stay strong throughout the process, and for me to have the strength to be positive about the situation, for I know that once I doubt myself, it’s all downhill from there. Within the week of my diagnosis, I would have gotten a second and third opinion, just to be sure of what I’m up against and to get more information about my cancer. I said my cancer because I would posses it and not let it posses me. With possessions, one can do with it as they please, even discard it as they see fit. That’s what I would plan to do, discard it. I would then, through the internet and library, research every element of my cancer: its causes, how it affects the body, its best treatments, its worse possible outcomes (death totals, etc.), and its best possible outcomes (success rates, rates of remission, etc.). From that research, I would have learned that mesothelioma is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers and attacks the mesothelium, thus causing breathing to become difficult. In addition, I would have learned that other side effects can include nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite, excessive coughing, sleeping difficulties, persistent chest pain, fever, and pain in the lower back (depending on the type of mesothelioma I’d be suffering from).

To further investigate my cancer, I would do as O’Connor did and talk with those who have, had, researched, and have people they know with mesothelioma. Increasing my knowledge of my cancer would better equip me to strategize my plan of attack. My attack would consist of physical and psychological treatment. The physical treatment would derive from a series of diagnostic tests such as x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, biopsies, etc. These tests would allow for my doctor to suggest the best treatment scenario for my individual case of mesothelioma. By the time my doctor would have gotten the test results, I would have already known the primary options for mesothelioma: surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. Prior to my consultation with my doctor, I would most likely opt for the surgery in hopes that my cancer was caught in its earlier stages and hadn’t spread to other parts of my body. Unfortunately, I know that mesothelioma is generally diagnosed in its later stages, so the only aid that surgery could provide is to take fluid out of my lungs(thoracentesis) and prevent the fluid from coming back (pleurodesis). If my doctor were to suggest radiation or chemotherapy, I would probably opt for the radiation being that it has fewer side effects and is easier to endure than chemotherapy. I know that there is no cure for mesothelioma as of yet and those primary options are just to make life easier for those with cancer, so I would probably go for the radiation and surgery if the mesothelioma was greatly affected my way of life. Being a supporter of all things scientific, I would research clinical trials to remove the cancer from one’s body. Knowing more about the process, I would opt for that surgery after consulting my doctor. Since there’s no guarantee that the cancer would never return, I would continue to research more ways to find a cure. The psychological treatment that I would embark on involves me bringing awareness to my situation and mesothelioma in general. I would educate anyone who wants to listen (and those who don’t) about mesothelioma. I’d also set up fund raisers to support research for a cure. I learned this type of treatment while working with those who are HIV positive. This psychological treatment helps because talking about one’s issues and challenges tends to aid the recovery process and builds a stronger support team in those who surround you. It’s better than facing your issues alone, which can lead to depression and a negative feeling of self-worth.

From this path, I’m sure that I would beat my cancer, just as Rhio O’Connor had done. Although some may argue that he succumbed to his cancer, I argue that he beat it as soon as he decided to fight against it. I am certain that O’Connor did not admit defeat on his deathbed, but embraced his death as a battle won. He beat the odds and outlived his prognosis. O’Connor did what no one in that situation would initially expect to do; he lived. Because he fought and lived, his badge of honor is every person who has read his story. Through his battle and his noble death, O’Connor has advocated for mesothelioma research and has touched all those who have learned about him, as well as known him. His fight to live is a reflection of the courage that everyone possesses, whether they know it or not. He unlocked his bravery after his diagnosis and his story has inspired others, including myself, to unlock their own courage. O’Connor’s valor is what heroes of storybooks are made of; what warriors throughout the course of time were made of, and I am truly blessed to have learned about the inspirational James “Rhio” O’Connor and am forever inspired. Thank you James “Rhio” O’Connor.

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