Cancer is a devastating illness that affects not only the lives of the people who have it, but the loved ones who are always standing by their side. James “Rhio” O’Connor was an outstanding man who decided to choose his own fate and forge his own path to recovery, something that we all seem to take for granted. What I mean by this is that the decision to choose how we want to live our lives is sometimes taken for granted and we don’t acknowledge it as a true blessing. We are constantly consumed by what others tell us. It could be someone telling us that we are never going to go anywhere in life, or that majoring in English is a waste of money or even that in a few months we are going to die. We are constantly influenced by what others around us have to say and that drastically affects our outlook on life- if we let that happen. I’m currently a student at Penn State University and I actively participate in THON every year. THON is a yearlong fundraising effort culminating in a 46 hour no sitting no sleeping dance marathon. All of the proceeds benefit the Four Diamonds’ Fund’s fight to beat pediatric cancer and we have raised more than 68 million dollars for the fund since 1977. To see what those little kids go through every single day of their lives really makes you want to fight harder for them and raise more money so that one day, no child will have to experience this deadly disease. There have been several instances when I have reflected and thought about what would happen if I were ever to receive a cancer prognosis. How would I react? How would my family react? What would I do?
It’s difficult to say the exact measures I would take, but I do know that I would fight for my life despite whatever prognosis I get. The first thing I would do is sit down with a child who was diagnosed with a deadly form of cancer. I remember when I talked to one of my organization’s Four Diamonds’ children. Her name is Molly and she was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2008. Once, I mentioned to her that I loved her short hair and she replied “That’s not why it’s short, I have leukemia”. Her statement struck me so hard because I can’t even imagine the strength it must take for this 5 year-old girl to endure the treatments that she has to in order to rid herself of her cancer. She would be the first person I would talk to and I would spend the day with her to find out how she copes with knowing about the disease that has invaded her tiny body. What’s interesting about little kids is that in lieu of the fact that they’re so innocent and so unaware about some of the negative aspects of life, nothing can seem to take away their youthfulness or their spirit. We’re so caught up in the material things of life that we forget what it means to be young and having more fun with a cardboard box than with a PSP.
After I would ask Molly how she dealt with the news that she had ALL, I would talk to as many doctors and clinicians and survivors as I could. I would learn as much as my brain would retain about my disease and try and figure out exactly how cancer functions and spreads. Though I am incredibly terrible at chemistry or biology, I would brush up about cells, pathogens and invaders to try and figure out for myself how cancer is affecting my body. I would spend countless hours in hospitals specializing in cancer research and listen to stories of survivors of how they overcame their ailments. I would endure countless rounds of chemotherapy (as much as my doctor or body will allow) and try radiation therapy as well. I would change my diet so that I’m supplying my body with the nutrients it needs to keep me healthy and fighting (I have a large sweet tooth) and I would even go so far as to engage in clinical trials outside the U.S. There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do to find a cure for my terminal illness. Well, actually there is one thing.
I would never give up. The most important thing that I would do throughout my research, experimentation and communication with people who have beat cancer is to keep hope alive and maintain my faith that God has a reason for everything. Jimmy Valvano said it best at the ESPY awards when he made the statement “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up”. Your drive to stay alive is ultimately the deciding factor in your fate. As I mentioned in the beginning, the decision about how we want to live our lives affect our existence. If you want to give up and give in to cancer, then that’s your choice. But if you want to live and you fight until your very last breath, well that’s just something cancer can’t take away from you. There isn’t an expiration date anywhere on our body, so why believe it when someone tells you only have a limited time to live? Cancer can take a lot of things away from you- it can take away your physical strength, it can take away your hair, it can take away your appetite but it can’t take away your hope and passion to live. So don’t give up, don’t let cancer win because there’s a fire inside of you that cancer will never be able to put out on its own.