Smith, William | Surviving Mesothelioma

Smith, William

In the seventh grade, I brought home my first B on a report card. I didn’t know it yet, but the year 2001 was about to get a lot worse. Most of it seems like a blurred dream, but I remember staring at the egg-shaped lump protruding out of my dad’s neck as my mom inspected. “What is it”, I asked. Out of the three of us, no one knew what it could be. The next day, my dad had the lump inspected by a local doctor in Ocala. As it turns out, it was just a swollen lymph node, probably from an infection. He prescribed antibiotics to my dad. After three weeks of antibiotics, there was no change in size of the “lymph node”. The doctor sent my dad to another specialist to perform a needle biopsy and draw out fluid from the lump. We didn’t hear anything for a whole week after the biopsy. My mom was sick, full of worry. It was a Friday morning when she called and demanded the results be told to her. I had my best friend sleep over that night, so she had time to tell my dad the bad news in private. That night, we were determined that as a family, we would overcome this huge speed bump and win this battle together.

The doctor that discovered the cancer wanted to perform an “exploratory” surgery to find where the cancer was. For some reason, my mom did not like this idea one bit. She had been trying to reach Shands Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida all week long, with no luck. Luckily, my uncle knew a well-respected Radiologist in Orlando that provided my mom with advice. He said to get out of Ocala and into Shands. He helped us set up an appointment with Dr. Mendenhall. Dr. Mendenhall provided us with a diagnosis, the type of cancer, and even a treatment plan the very next day. My dad would stay at the Hope Lodge for eight weeks while his radiation treatment was underway and until the surgery was performed. These eight weeks turned out to be hardest time my family has ever been through. My mom had the responsibility of keeping our house and property clean while providing for me. To this day, I don’t know how she did it. My dad made it through alive, and has been cancer-free for 8 years. The side effects are still dragging on, but he makes it through the day a happy person.

After reading about Rhio O’ Connor’s story, it made me think about what life would be like for me if it were me instead of my dad that was diagnosed with cancer. Of course, I immediately tell myself, “I would be fine, I would make it out alive”. Would I though? I haven’t thought this through until thinking about what I would say in this essay. The eight weeks my dad went through during treatment was the worst time in his life, according to him. Even though he is an Army veteran who served in Korea, this didn’t even come close to the pain he felt in Gainesville. What would I do if the doctor said that I had cancer and I wouldn’t live for more than a year? Would I go out and see the world? Would I do things I only thought about in dreams? Or would I sit in my room all day and cry, hoping for the best?

Shands Hospital at the University of Florida is supposed to be one of the best cancer treatment centers in the world. Well, I live about a block away from these facilities. The first thing I’d do is talk with professors, doctors, therapists. Anyone that has information to offer is something that can be used to my advantage. Rhio developed strategies for survival. He gathered information that was available to him, and he worked with it. I look up to Rhio and how he made the most out of his dire situation. He had to have been an extremely strong individual, proving to doctors that he wasn’t ready to go in one year. Cancer continues to take the lives of millions of people around the world, but as long as there are people like James “Rhio” O’ Connor around, one day we’ll beat it.

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