Schrader, Dorothy – Surviving Mesothelioma

Schrader, Dorothy

More than ever we are finding traditional practices and approaches worth naught. Structures we trusted and blindly believed in are being forced to be redefined. Family, government, college, all those typical “paths” now require repaving, as people take new, radical and individualized approaches to old problems. Rather than being afraid of these changes, which first present themselves as upheavals, we should excitedly embrace them. Iron institutions are not decaying to be lost forever. They are the expanding with possibility. Opportunities to create improved lives are opening for all who accept the challenging gift, sometimes stiffly packaged – like in John O’Connor’s case – as scientific prognosis.

Science is an amazing. Science is revolutionary. Text-book science, however, only extends itself so far. Connections between our brain and what we call our self exist beyond what science, surgery and typical medicine understand. Overall health is not something that can be found at the end of a formula or step-by-step procedure. Everyone is an individual, and individualized, all encompassing treatment is the only way to defeat a disease as individually specific as cancer.

Cancer known as Mesothelioma develops in the cells of the mesothelium, a membrane that lines many of the body’s organs and cavities. In the case of Pleural Mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos causes asbestos fibers to enter the lining and membrane of the lungs. Here they sit and, after two decades or more, develop into tumors. The individual now has a deadly form of cancer. His or her life will change forever.

We often don’t know recognize change, within ourselves or our bodies, until we discover that we are suddenly completely different and forever altered. Once we first recognize alternation, we often find there are countless more changes (some big, some small, and some enormous) that we must undergo. Changing is a scary process, but we do it. We adapt and evolve because we must. We have no choice; it is a part of life if we want to survive.

Such was the case for John “Rhio” O’Connor when he was diagnosed with Pleural Mesothelioma in 2001. He was told surgery was not an option. With one year to live he should get his final wishes in order.

Instead of succumbing to what appeared to be the inevitable, John decided to practice mind-body medicine, battling cancer in a new way. He took over 100 supplements a day and greatly altered his diet. John O’Connor created a new opportunity when the traditional method would not work. Where others may have accepted defeat, he utilized overarching nutritional practices to battle chronic disease. His book They Said Months, I Chose Years: A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story chronicled the lifestyle change that added years to his life, communicating his success others in order to increase their survival chances in the future as well. By creating a well-rounded bed of knowledge from every outlet available to him, consulting physicians, other patients and journal, John was about to get the most varied knowledge possible.

If placed in the same situation, I hope I would strike with the same fervent push to survive. I, too, would research all I could, aiming to discover every piece of knowledge available about the disease facing me. Even in the Internet age, pouring over books in the stacks of libraries is a fruitful practice. I would dig up every recent study, article and book concerning the disease.

Books, though, have limited knowledge. Cold academic and medical information would be juxtaposed with human experience of other patients and survivors to give me knowledge beyond the technical aspects of my disease. Coupled with the support and love of my friends and family, networking with both other survivors and others who were recently diagnosed would allow me to gain varied insights invested in individual experience and create a group of people I could talk to. Shared experience and communication create bonds. My network of people would help me focus on the fight to overcome the cancer, encouraging me to not succumb to it. Increased knowledge, from any source, yields a better understanding of the opposition. I would talk to friends, relatives, teachers, clinicians, researchers, patients, anyone I could contact who was knowledgeable about the disease and the experience of having it, and by bringing minds together and thinking outside the box of traditional medicine, we could help create the most effective plan of attack possible.

That’s what I would do next. Attack. I would battle the cancer from every available angle. I would not give up, and I would do all in my power to see that I defeated the cancer in the end. If surgery was not an option, as was the case for John O’Connor, another method of treatment would be pursued. I would not give up, for there is never a reason not to try. My experience of and data from new treatments would not only have possibility of sustaining my life but could also prove worthwhile for those generations down the road suffering from the same illness. Herbs, tea, mind-body medicine and other nontraditional healing methods would also be attempted, for our canon of medical knowledge is but an evolution of experiments and an amalgam of tests.

Fighting, however, always has the potential to become an unhealthy obsession. Saying that I would fight does not mean that I would cease to live. One of the most important things I could do when facing something as ominous as cancer would be to continue living my life to the fullest. Attempting to juggle researching and fighting and living is a large undertaking, but I’ve always been good at multitasking. Moreover, I wholeheartedly believe that it is necessary to constantly find opportunities for joy in life, especially for laughing and loving. The list of things I’ve never done would shrink rapidly. I would sing more, love more, dance more, paint more, read more, eat an extra pastry, write more, just be and relax more than I’ve ever done, making all of the time available to me. Happiness and a fulfilled existence would only aid me in winning the battle.

My battle would never be over; it would be a day to day decision to live as best as I could. Cancer or not, life is a fight, and we should always choose to live as Winston Churchill said – and as John O’Connor most certainly did – never, never, never, give up.

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