Rydzewski, Alaina – Surviving Mesothelioma

Rydzewski, Alaina

“To Live Life to the Fullest”

James “Rhio” O’Connor is an extremely inspiring individual who, when diagnosed with a deadly form of the cancer mesothelioma and given only one year to live, ended up living for six years with the help of his optimistic mindset, resources and a belief in something greater than himself. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer almost always caused by exposure to asbestos and is unrelated to smoking. Symptoms include anything from shortness of breath to weight loss, and can lay dormant in the body for up to fifty years. Through his rigorous education process, Rhio was able to learn as much as he could about his disease so he could make informed decisions about his treatment. This enabled him to live years past the date doctors said he would die by, and encourages other people every day to have hope when in the face of such a challenge.

Although I have never had cancer and don’t know firsthand what patients go through, cancer has run its course through my family, taking my Nana when I was ten years old and severely affecting several family members whom I had been close with, including my Papa (who died from another disease last year) and my great Aunt Tee, who is still battling with chemotherapy today. Hearing about Rhio and seeing what my family members have gone through inspires me to live for the present but always be mentally, physically and spiritually prepared for the future, because anything can happen.

If I were given a dire cancer prognosis, although I would want to live life as normally as possible, I would quit school. I love school and everything about school, but I would want to accomplish certain goals before it would be too late. The first thing I would do would be to research the specific type of cancer that I had. I would go to the library and check out all the books they had on it and read them thoroughly, along with going on the Internet and seeing what valuable sites I could find on there. After reading anything and everything I could find on my cancer, I would join support groups to see what other people facing a similar prognosis had done, and also talk to my doctor, family members and friends for support.

To make an informed decision when choosing a treatment path, I would obviously talk closely with my doctor and other doctors and see how different treatments have helped other people with similar prognoses to mine. I would follow my heart—if something doesn’t sound right for me then it probably isn’t, and I would choose something else. However, if traditional forms of treatment, such as chemo, radiation and surgery had little or nothing to offer, I would definitely look beyond them for other nontraditional treatments. Anything that might have helped anyone else has a chance of helping me, and I would be open to anything.

I believe that along with formal treatments such as chemo, radiation, surgery and any recognized procedure that would take place in a hospital or cancer treatment center, my daily living would be extremely important in fighting my disease as well, maybe even more important. Included in my daily living is my mindset, and without an optimistic belief that you can and will survive, any chemo or other treatment would not do any good. There is a concrete need for an optimistic attitude, and I would spend my day cultivating that. In order to this, I would basically spend my days making myself happy. I would read self help books and any other book I want to read, as reading is one of my favorite things to do. I would spend time volunteering in homeless shelters and food kitchens, as I am not the only person in need of help. I would clean my room and the house, spend time with my family and friends and visit elderly people who are in need of company. This is certainly not a complete list of all the things I would do, which are many. Another aspect of life needed is the healthiest body one could have. I would eat only organic things and only healthy things. My diet would consist of the food pyramid minus the sweet part, and I would even consult with a nutrition expert to come up with the best possible diet for myself. In accordance with this, I would also exercise daily. I love to jog, so there would be a lot of that going on, but I would also participate in exercises such as pilates and yoga, which would clear my mind, and others such as kickboxing, which would give me self defense. I would also swim, play tennis and lift weights. I would probably consult a personal trainer to design the best workout.

The last thing I would do to balance myself mentally, physically and spiritually would be to talk to a therapist and possibly a priest. No matter what I spend my days doing, the thought of death would always be in the back of my mind, and I know I would need someone to talk to who is on the outside looking in who could give me a fresh perspective on my life and what to do to improve my mindset. I would also talk to a priest because let’s face it, I’ve made mistakes and done people wrong and I don’t want to have any regrets or be harboring any grudges. I don’t attend church regularly because I believe that my personal relationship with God is more important, but I think talking to a priest would help to accept myself spiritually and also help me to face my own death and whatever comes after.

Essentially, I would do all the things I don’t have time to do while going to college, which is in effect a fulltime job. I would live life to the fullest and appreciate every day for what is, appreciating the small things like the sunshine and breeze as well as the big things like being alive.

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