Schwamm, Abigail – Surviving Mesothelioma

Schwamm, Abigail

As a psychology major, I am especially inspired by Rhio’s story because I have learned a great deal about the importance one’s attitudes can have on their body. It also applies to my own mindset that you control your own fate. From the psychology classes I have taken, as well as from my own experiences, I have reached the conclusion that people are responsible for what happens to them. I believe that each person possesses the power to change the course of his or her life.

James Rhio O’Conner was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 2001. This cancer occurs in the lining of the lungs, caused by exposure to asbestos. It is considered to be incurable. Sixty-one years old at the time, Rhio was told he had less than a year to live. But Rhio did not believe in the word incurable nor did he accept his prognosis. After the one-year mark passed and he was still holding strong, it was evident that he had no intention of giving in to his disease. He wrote a book called “They Said Months, I Chose Years” and truly lived by this motto.

Many people would panic if they were in Rhio’s situation. They would become terrified, which is, of course, completely understandable. But if I were given this prognosis, I hope that I would take the opposite approach. I would consider all the treatment plans offered to me and listen to what my doctor’s recommended. But pumping chemicals into your body can only do so much. At a certain point, you need to look beyond the medicine and trust yourself. You need to believe that you can beat your illness, and you need to fight like hell to survive. When it comes to medicine, I do not accept statistics nor do I care about what is most likely to occur. I believe in medical miracles. I believe in faith. I believe in life. And I believe that if I believe these things, I can control my fate. At a certain point, the direction of our lives is not up to our friends, our family, or our doctors. It is up to us. Rhio outlived his prognosis by more than six years, but this is not what made him special. His uniqueness came from the fact that he had so much faith in himself that he changed the course of his life. His will to live was so powerful that, against all odds, he survived. This is the remarkable part of Rhio’s story, this is his legend.

If I were given a dire cancer prognosis, I would give up all my inhibitions. I would take risks. I would travel the world. In our society, I think that people are much too conscious of what others think of them and allow social norms to hold them back. Everybody gets caught up in the chaos of life. Sometimes we are so busy that we forget to do the things that are most important to us. We push things aside, telling ourselves that we will get to them later. But when you realize that your days are numbered, it is a wake-up call. Instead of watching your life pass before your eyes, you take action. You learn to appreciate everything you have. Though we should all make time to remind ourselves of the things for which we are grateful, for some people something as horrible as a fatal diagnosis is the spark they need to change their lives.

But, when you think about it, all of our time is limited—fatal cancer prognosis or not. Though this may seem like a pessimistic statement, I believe that it instead should be read as an inspiring one. I truly believe everyone should live by the expression “carpe diem,” seize the day. Do not wait for someone to tell you that you only have a year left to live. Remind yourself on a daily basis that every moment counts. Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” That is what James Rhio O’Conner’s story taught me. Do not just blindly pass through the motions of life. Take advantage of every opportunity. Set out to achieve greatness. Be extraordinary. After all, when we transcend the expected, we have the power to change the world.

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