Shiptoski, Maria L. – Surviving Mesothelioma

Shiptoski, Maria L.

It is easy to say that James “Rhio” O’Connor’s story inspires me, and that I would take all of the same steps that he had if I was the person who received his diagnosis. But to say is one thing, and to actually perform the action is quite another. He received what can be considered the most devastating news in one’s life, the fact that he would lose his life in a year to an infrequent form of cancer that invades the lining that covers the inner organs. His story is very inspirational because he did choose to fight the odds and against Mesothelioma and in opinion, overcame it a champion.

It does not seem fair that a person who has done everything correctly in life still succumbs to an illness of which they did not have control. To be handed a diagnosis as a death sentence is never painless, especially when one trusts the physician who just gave the news. Because I am a pre-medical student, it would be effortless for me to say that medicine is irrefutable and that it can never be proven wrong. It would be easy to say that medicine always has the answers, and that one can always fall back on medicine as the one true component in life. But simply, those things cannot be said about medicine. Because it can be disproven, I would try to outlive my diagnosis just as Rhio did.

I have never considered myself a quitter, no matter how large or small the obstacle was. For example, this has proven to be the most demanding year in my academic career as it serves to differentiate those students who are truly capable of pursing a medical career from those who cannot. One course in particular was very formidable for me and at many times discouraged me. I had spent the summer before the fall semester attempting to prepare for Organic Chemistry with my high school chemistry teacher. We would meet on a weekly basis and dissect the material in hopes that I would have a good foundation from day one in the classroom. Even with all of the preparation I had received, the class proved to be the most difficult class that I had ever encountered. The exams were beyond difficult and the amount of time, energy and frustration put into the class cannot even be measured. To me, the word difficult does not even do the course justice.

But it was during this semester I had spent discouraged and agonizing over my schoolwork that I came to the realization that becoming a doctor was the goal I wanted to obtain more than anything in the world. I realized the times when I was happiest were when I was volunteering at either the Home Health and Hospice or the free health-care clinic in my home town, electrified by medicine, compassion, and simply helping another human being. This enabled me to find the strength to overcome my concerns with this class and persevere until the end of the semester. This ability has taught me to handle constructive criticism, to remain determined, desire improvement, and have self-confidence for the second part of this course in spring semester. From this experience, I have had an opportunity for personal reflection and growth in addition to the practical application of my knowledge. I have pushed my limits, learned from others, and discovered much about myself.

This type of “incurable” cancer is, for me, analogous to my struggle with organic chemistry. It seems as though this is an unwinnable match but yet it gives me a purpose for which I am able to make a negative situation into a positive one for myself as well as others. The first step in dealing with this diagnosis would be for me to come to terms with the diagnosis, and to realize that while it is daunting it is not an impossible diagnosis. The second step would be for me to research my options for treatments. Third, I would do everything I could to make the time that I did have the most memorable yet.

With the same spirit as Rhio, I would question my doctors and the diagnosis. One of the hardest lessons to learn in life is that one does not know all of the answers. While I may not have all of the answers in respect to my illness, neither do the medical professionals. In the same way I would research different mechanisms for organic chemistry, I would make use of the resources in the library and pour over book after book compiling all of the information I could about my illness. I would talk to other patients, for I know that my case is not the first nor will it be the last. Sometimes the most valuable information is that which we learn from another.

One of the most important aspects of my treatment regardless of whether I chose to undergo chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or some other technique, would be that of a support system filled with family and friends. I believe that when one has support regardless of the obstacle, the individual is more likely to overcome it because while there may be darkness, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. I would chose my treatment based on the limitations it would cause me, the amount of stress it would place on me as well as others around me, and whether it seemed logical given my situation.

I realize that all bodies will come to an end at some point, whether that is during the time frame given for my diagnosis or years down the road. Regardless, the dire diagnosis has made me stop to consider all aspects of my life. If this were my last day on earth, would I be happy with the decisions I have made? The last part of my fight against the odds would be to compile a bucket list, or a list of things I would want to accomplish before I die. My goal would be to complete all of them before my body succumbs to the cancer, which is unfortunately inevitable. But while it is predictable, it is no excuse. In saying that, I would plan to live every day like it was my last.

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