The life story of Rhio O’Connor is fascinating. Rhio was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma and his prognosis was less than a year to live. Due to the position of the tumor (it was located near his spine), surgery was not possible. In addition, chemotherapy was not the best choice for him due to the fact that it would significantly decrease the quality of his life and not improve his length of life. In the age of 61, Rhio was suggested to get his affairs in order. However, he rejected the idea and decided that he will survive this cancer. Rhio was researching mesothelioma, various therapies and theories of treatment. He spoke to doctors, nurses, patients, and other people in order to obtain additional information and gain more knowledge about his disease. After his extensive research, he developed a program for himself: he changed his diet, added different supplements, practiced mind-body medicine, and believed in his future success! Rhio survived seven and a half more years and passed away on July 11, 2009. He was 69 years old.
I got even more respect towards Rhio when I learned more about mesothelioma. This is rare form of cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the mesothelium (a membrane that covers and protects most of the internal organs of the body). Cells of the mesothelium become abnormal and divide without control or order. They can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Treatment for mesothelioma depends on the location of the cancer, the stage of the disease, and the patient’s age and general health. Standard treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Sometimes, these treatments are combined. The life expectancy of a mesothelioma patient is affected by numerous factors including: age of diagnosis, types of mesothelioma, smoking and latency period (early/late stage of development); in any case, the rates of survival tend to be very low (approximately 9% survival rate).
Every time I read different life stories, I tend to imagine myself being in the same situation and think how I would act and what decisions I would make. This time, it was extremely difficult to visualize myself having a dire cancer prognosis. When you are healthy, it is difficult to accept the fact that you might get sick and have a prognosis of less than a year to live. More interestingly, at the same time when I got to know about Rhio’s life story, I found out that a close friend of mine is in late stage of cancer and she has a very few chances of surviving. After shocking news, I decided to think about Rhio’s story and decide for myself how I would live with such a prognosis.
Considering my background in physiology, exercise science, and kinesiology, I would research current therapies and their effects on patients with mesothelioma. Since there is little evidence that current therapies (chemotherapy, radiation, surgery) provide significant benefit for survival or quality of life, I would do more research on alternative treatments and talk to doctors about any new treatments that became available and sound to be promising. I would definitely look into attending conferences on the topic of mesothelioma and connecting with mesothelioma survivors. The major reason for all this research is to understand the disease and its effects on human body. I noticed that Rhio was calling mesothelioma “Mr. Meso”. It might sound odd, but it seems that Rhio was not blaming mesothelioma for its existence, but was respecting the disease and trying to understand the specifics of this particular cancer.
Rhio’s example is extremely inspirational because it shows that mesothelioma is not an absolutely terminal condition when there is no hope for survival. He proved that the ability to make tough choices and optimism could be great tools in extending your longevity and improving the quality of life. Even though I have a scientific background, I am very influenced by alternative and preventative medicine. I strongly believe that a person has a power to overcome any obstacles he/she may encounter in his/her life. I know that there is certain scientific data or medical research that has been done on the topic of cancer; but I also know that there have been so many cases when people changed their life values and they had no symptoms and no evidence of recurrence of cancer.
My personal view on cancer is based on the belief that it may be caused by prolonged feelings of grievance or offence. This, probably, does not sound very scientifically and medically proved. However, I believe that emotional state of a human being is extremely influential: negative feelings may cause a development of different illnesses (and cancer is one of them). According to medical research, the major risk factor for developing mesothelioma is working with asbestos. Of course I would not argue with this. However, based on the official statistics, with traditional medical therapies, there has been little improvement in survival in 27 years. This only means that there is something wrong with treatment or interpreting of cancer.
From the medical point of view, my beliefs might look superficial and naïve. Nevertheless, I have faith in them, and it is all what truly matters. If I were given a dire cancer prognosis, I would accept this and think about what I have to change in my life in order to beat my prognosis. I would start with nutrition and physical activity. The development of healthy diet with all essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals as well as engaging in light/moderate physical activity would be beneficial for my physical body. In addition, I would develop a good nutrition program with the help of clinicians/doctors/research data that will help to manage this chronic disease.
More importantly, I would focus on my emotional health (it definitely has a lot influence on physical health). I would like to be surrounded by my family members who will believe in my recovery. I would listen to classical music that is known to be a good stimulator of positive emotions. It will be necessary to learn how to control emotions and don’t let negative emotions to rule my life. Finding joy in every minute of my life and noticing things such as beautiful flowers on the street, sunshine, happy eyes of my loved ones will make my life more complete and wonderful. It might sound inappropriate to talk about flowers and mesothelioma at the same time. But it is necessary to start from little things that will help to see a bigger picture. With ability to find joy in every little thing, it would be so much easier to believe that tomorrow you will be free of cancer!
Rhio’s inspirational life reminds that life does not stop when you see the word “cancer” in your medical chart. It is possible to extend life beyond chemotherapy, surgery and radiation; you only have to believe in it and find ways that will work for you … Maybe there is no single solution to mesothelioma. For one person, it would be enough to do a self-talk and convince her/himself that recovery is coming soon. For another person, it would be necessary to add alternative treatments (my friend is taking 20 drops of propolis with 50 mls of milk, 30 minutes before every meal). For someone else, it would be enough to find a stimulus in life that will make his/her desire to live super strong.
By the way, my friend just became a grandmother … she beat her prognosis and she is thankful for every minute of her life.
Cancer is not the end of life. It is just another obstacle that people have a solution to. Believing in yourself is the first secret of success…Believe!