William Sloane Coffin said “Hope arouses, as nothing else can arouse, a passion for the possible.” James “Rhio” O’Connor faced his cancer with extraordinary strength, insurmountable determination, and most importantly hope. I know the power that hope possesses, and I know how hope can dwarf even the greatest of obstacles.
At the age of 16, after months of searching for the reason behind many health problems, I was diagnosed with a nervous system disorder. I was told I have dysautonomia, a disorder of the autonomic nervous system. I was put on countless medications, some of which did more harm than they did help, and I saw doctor after doctor in multiple hospitals in various states. In seeking treatment my mother and I looked to everything we possibly could. Along with pharmaceutical treatment, I saw a nutritionist to start eating healthier, began doing yoga for its physical benefits as well its focus on mind-body wellbeing, and started seeing a chronic illness counselor. Soon after beginning treatment, I felt that there was no reason I could not lead a perfectly fulfilling teenage life. Unfortunately approximately six months after my diagnosis I experience a relapse of my symptoms and was bedridden for seven months of my junior year of high school. Despite the fact that I was unable to get out of bed I kept up with school via a homebound teacher. Even in the times of greatest darkness when I felt pushed to the brink I never lost hope.
James “Rhio” O’Connor was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma at age 61. Pleural mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that mainly affects the lining of the lungs. Rhio’s mesothelioma was caused by his exposure to asbestos when he was younger. He was told he had less than a year to live. Surgery was not an option, and chemotherapy had little to offer. Rhio’s doctor suggested going on a cruise and taking his wife with him, to help them cope with the news. Rhio refused to accept the idea of waiting for the cancer to take over his body. Instead, he became avidly proactive in his fight against mesothelioma. He changed his diet, began taking over 100 supplements every day, and even practiced mind-body medicine. Rhio survived for more than 7 years through his own health regimen. His inspirational story and boundless courage astounds me. I would like to think that I would approach such harrowing news with even a fraction of his spirit and heart.
If I were diagnosed with terminal cancer and told I only had one year to live, I would stand by my family and loved ones and face the disease that is threatening my life. First I would ask if my pathology had been sent to another hospital to ensure the correct diagnoses, and if it had not been sent out then I would request it. I would listen to everything my doctor had to tell me and take everything he or she suggested into consideration. I would take notes myself or ask a family member or friend to come along to take notes for me. I would even ask my doctor if it were possible for me to record the conversations we have. Before deciding on treatment I would utilize every resource I possibly could. I would ask my oncologist if they have treated anyone around my age with the same exact cancer, how they treated them, and if there was any way I could contact them. I would research the cancer I had been diagnosed with as well as treatments and testimonies from the very patients that underwent those treatments. I would research using the internet, any nearby cancer institutions or universities, and any resources my doctor had to offer. The possibility of my doctor having a vested interested in a certain type of treatment would also be something I would take into consideration. I would readily undergo chemotherapy, radiation treatment, or surgery if they had a lot to offer for my case. However, if conventional treatments did not have much to offer I would not rule out alternative methods.
Knowing that there is only so much that my oncologist could do I would look to what I could do for myself in the war being waged within my body. Outside of pharmaceutical treatments I would look to natural supplements, nutrition, and mind-body wellness. I would look for ways to supplement my body so that it could better manage the cancer and the treatment I was undergoing. I would look to change my diet to organic foods that are not processed or sprayed with all kinds of chemicals. Mind-body health would be important to me in my battle against cancer. I would look to practicing meditation and relaxation techniques. With all of the internal physical turmoil going on within my body I would do my best to bring myself to a relaxed mental and spiritual state.
Being surrounded by people that love and support me would be a major part of my fight against cancer. I would spend as much time as I possibly could with my family and friends. If they felt comfortable enough, I would even share my experiences with them and allow them to accompany me to various appointments or treatments. Cancer support groups would also be something I would look into. Having other people who know what you are going through can make all the difference in the world on the days when it seems you are the only one going through such blight.
I have not been diagnosed with a terminal illness, but I have been told that my body is betraying me. I know what it’s like to walk around feeling as though your body wants you to give up, but I don’t give up and I never will. I know that if I were diagnosed with terminal cancer I would face it with the same determination and hope that I have faced my dysautonomia. I would not be fighting the same monster, but I know I would fight with all of my heart.