Steffes, Scott – Surviving Mesothelioma

Steffes, Scott

The Darkest Day: An Essay Inspired by Rhio O’Connor

Death is what we all fear most.  The innate fear of dying unites the genders, and every culture, religion and country on the planet. The fear of extinguishment also unites us with Mother Nature as even the tiniest microbe will mutate to adapt and survive when the environment requires it.  The loathsome uncertainty of death, and all that its occurrence encompasses, has ignited and fueled medical breakthroughs, technology, religion and the insurance industry.  I would like to believe I would also be capable of such an amazing transformation within my environment, if my body was similarly attacked by a disease it could not combat in its natural form.  I would be willing to undergo a complete obliteration of my body through radiation, surgery, or any combination of necessary treatments so that it could rebuild itself in a form that would allow me to continue life.  Though the hardships of the treatment would feel, at times, unendurable, the chance of having additional time with those I love would alleviate the mental and physical challenges.

James O’Connor’s story reminded me of my own small tragedy. My grandfather was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, and his health declined quickly.  The cancer spread within him so rapidly that there was no time to decide as to whether a fight against the disease was feasible.  My family and I remember feelings of bewilderment, unalleviated grief and a fear of the familial chaos the grim diagnosis represented to us.  In 2001, James O’Connor,  undoubtedly felt similar feelings when he first heard the diagnosis of Mesothelioma, and was advised he would have only a short time to organize his personal affairs before he passed.  Mesothelioma, whose cancerous cells damage the lining that protects our major organs and often spreads throughout the body, forced Mr. O’Connor to make several important choices.(www.survivingmesothelioma.com)  After thoroughly researching his options, consulting several specialists and determining what would be required in hopes to prolong his life; he decided to fight the cancer.  Favorably, O’Connor not only followed the treatment plans of his physicians, but also developed his own medical regiment to work in concert with the professional recommendations.  O’Connor found courage to suffer the most demanding happenstance he ever faced.   Introspectively, I have handled many more insignificant situations with less strength of character than that which James displayed as he battled the biological burden that threatened to end his life.

After the initial tears, hugs, telephone calls and emails to loved ones, and even a few bouts of angry banter towards Whomever dealt me the uncompromising hand of a bleak cancer diagnosis, I would inhale the support and love of my family and spend a couple hundred hours with man’s new best friend; the Internet, to acquaint myself with what I was facing.  With the information, research and opinions available only a mouse click away, it would be foolish not to gather any accessible subject matter.  I frequent my local library; however, my visits would increase to obtain resources and to have a quiet place to study my disease.  I have two friends who are researchers in cancer exploration, whom I would use as valuable outlets as well.  I believe comprehension reduces fear, which, in turn, reduces emotions of frustration, anger and negativity, none of which I would want in my camp when mentally preparing myself for the inevitableness of my mortality.   To stand a chance, I would have to become strong allies with tangible defenses: the goal to survive, supported by knowledge about what I was facing and the strength of my family, and a solid treatment plan that included trustworthy medical professionals whom I felt cared as much about my survival as me.

It would not necessarily be pertinent that I see the most renowned physician in the country or the world, nor would it import that I receive my treatment at the most prestigious facility, even if my meager health insurance and finances allowed for it, rather I would prefer to feel comfortable with my medical environment and treatment plan.  In Lance Armstrong’s biography, detailing his own experience with testicular cancer, he settled on a physician, in Indianapolis, Indiana, with whom he felt comfortable, rather than a more severe physician and treatment plan offered at one of the nation’s leading cancer facilities, in Houston, which would have been closer to his home in Austin, Texas.  I currently reside in Phoenix, Arizona, and upon review of the cancer facilities available and accessible, I believe my cancer treatment needs would be well met at The Arizona Cancer Center or Phoenix Cancer Center.  Also, in accordance with conventional treatments, there is an alternative treatment center locally called the EuroMed Foundation that strives to treat the entire human being, not just an individual’s symptoms, which I would look further into when deciding on my treatment plan.

Another important factor in my treatment, once my physician and treatment plans have been designated, would be my mental attitude.  A positive approach and the ability to stay motivated in order to follow a treatment plan is for many terminal patients a tremendous hurdle to overcome.  The simple fact that I would be suffering not only the effects of the cancer, but moreover, nausea, loss of appetite, extreme exhaustion, among other side-effects of the treatment simply for the opportunity to prolong my life without any certainty or guarantee would be psychologically discouraging.  There are few individuals willing to wager life on a fluke chance of winning.  If there was ever a time in my life when I felt that self-sufficiency was a viable means of remedying a problem, this would not be one of those instances.  Cancer would be a time when I would self-prescribe the love and help of my family and closest friends.  I recognize that I would ask them to gather around me, and I am thankful that I know they would be there, arms open, to do exactly that.

If death is what we fear most, living life each day knowing you will never be able to duplicate it is the best way to overcome that inexplicable and innate human fear.  I would not allow a grim diagnosis to direct my life.  I recently read a book passed to me by a friend, written by Randy Pausch, a former professor at Carnegie Mellon. He died of pancreatic cancer on July 25, 2008, but his book, The Last Lecture, is an inspiring legacy.  There is a story in his memoir that truly helped me to realize that enjoying the time in between the trials, and even the trials themselves, is all a part of the experience.  One day Pausch receives an email from a colleague.  In her email she recalls how she had recently seen a person driving in a convertible, top down and windows lowered on a sunny day.  The individual’s arm was hanging over the driver’s side door, and his fingers were tapping along to the music on the radio. She could see that the man had a smile on his face, absentmindedly. She found herself thinking, “Wow, this is the epitome of a person appreciating this day and this moment.”  The convertible turned the corner and she realized that the man was Randy Pausch; a man who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer (Pausch, 64).

After all the hours spent endlessly researching and asking question about my cancer, I must remember the only goal: life.  I need to remind myself that the reason for all the hardship is to hold on to all that is life for as much additional time as my body will endure.  It is important that my health remain intact after my exhausting rehabilitation, so that I may continue to experience life without restraint.  Though my outline appears feasible and capable of being managed, there is certainly no guarantee that I can direct real life the way I have organized this essay. It is crucial to keep in mind that when faced with a true emergency, the manual created for that exact moment may, or more likely, may not be utilized as it was intended.  It is in these moments that one must simplify their objective.  Ultimately the only way to overcome any overwhelming situation is to confront it one small part at a time.   

Works Cited
Pausch, Randy, and Jeffrey Zaslow. The Last Lecture. New York: Hyperion, 2008. Print.
Armstrong, Lance, and Salley Jenkins. It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. New York: Putnam, 2000. Print.
Kraus, Paul. Surviving Mesothelioma: A Patient’s Guide. Cancer Monthly Inc., 2005-2009. Web. 15 January 2010.

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