Szajman, Adam – Surviving Mesothelioma

Szajman, Adam

Cancer. The word evokes many emotions in our society. But when it is you who has been diagnosed, immediate fear, worry, sadness, and one’s mortality comes to the surface of our repressed emotions. No one wants to deal with a cancer diagnosis, but millions of people do on a daily basis. Cancer is a battle; the patient is transformed into a warrior facing a seemingly insurmountable foe. One must enter into this fight armed and prepared for a battle to the finish. Before setting off for battle one must first take a step back and get into a positive emotional mindset. A person gets very upset when they hear the “C”-word from the doctor. The best first step is to get a second opinion. There are numerous misdiagnoses each year and one should not just take one doctor’s word when it comes to such a life altering event. Doctors are people too, and do have different experiences, so what one could think is life threatening another could think is simple, and their treatment routes could differ greatly.

If after acquiring two opinions and the outlook still seems bleak, there are a plethora of options out there for one who is interested in putting up the resistance of their life. The best way to take on such a behemoth is to arm one’s self properly. One needs to furnish himself with knowledge. This is not a battle one can enter blindly, a person’s best chance to outliving a prognosis is by carefully planning a multifaceted attack. Before one can start to create a strategy for battle he must learn the opponent. Learning about the cancer one is faced with can take days of research and footwork, but let me tell you it is worth it. Take James “Rhio” O’Connor for example. He was given a depressing diagnosis of mesothelioma and only expected to live for another year. Mesothelioma is a very rare and deadly cancer. It is cancer of the mesothelium which acts as a protective cover on almost all of our bodily organs. The most common is pleural mesthelioma, which is when it is in the pleura of the lungs and usually caused by exposure to asbestos. This rare fatal cancer is exactly the enemy O’Connor was faced up against. That was back in 2001. Sadly yet triumphantly, O’Connor passed in July of 2009. He outlived his prognosis by 71/2 years, simply through his willpower, knowledge of his opponent, and determination to survive. “Rhio” looked past the conventional cancer treatments which offered him little hope. By learning his opponent and developing a well strategized battle plan, O’Connor created hope for millions of cancer patients.

In order to choose a sound strategy of attack one must do research. Research can be tedious but is essential in preparing for battle. One can look at online Medical Journals, go to their local library, consult numerous different types of clinicians and also turn to fellow warriors. A great source of advice from a fellow soldier could come from O’Connor’s book, They Said Months, I Chose Years: A Mesothelioma Survivors Story, where James lays out his methods and decisions he made. Many people might be fearful to try unconventional methods to fight cancer, but when you are faced with little to no hope you can try anything to survive. I personally feel there are a number of key points of attack one should take into consideration when dealing with cancer.

First, I believe that one’s diet can have a huge impact on causing, preventing, and even treating cancer. Not only cancer patients but everyone should stop eating so much fat. Fatty fast foods and the over emphasis on sweets in our diets have created people who are walking hosts for thousands of different diseases to just march right in and take over our weakened bodies. By looking at numerous medical articles, a person can find different foods that have been scientifically proven to help reduce chances of developing cancer.

Secondly, exercise is an important part of maintaining one’s health. Regular daily cardio and strength training is an essential part of keeping us healthy. Keeping one’s heart healthy is important if someone wants to have a long-lasting life. And last but not least, keeping ones stress levels low can make a major impact on health. There have been many studies talking about the negative effects unhappiness and stress can have on the body. Exercising can also help to reduce stress.

I have acquired these battle plans from watching family members face this scary diagnosis. Both my mother and grandmother have been diagnosed with breast cancer. My grandmother was diagnosed back in the 80’s when there were much fewer options in courses of treatment. My grandmother was pressured into a very invasive single mastectomy that has left her in an incomprehensible amount of pain everyday of her life. She did, however, change her lifestyle after such a life threatening scare. She eats healthier, always watching her fat and sodium intake; she exercises regularly, and has the most positive outlook on life that I have ever encountered. Thankfully she has survived and to this day she is still walking around telling her story. My mother was just diagnosed in October of last year. She consulted three different doctors about her cancer. Each doctor gave her a different option, which ranged from monitoring the tumor closely to having a double mastectomy. Intelligently, after hours of online research and talking with fellow breast cancer survivors she chose the middle road: getting a lumpectomy. She also decided to change her diet and start exercising. She used to never move from the couch, all night laying there soaking up radiation from the television. Currently she walks a few miles each day and has dropped over ten pounds. She is feeling healthier than ever before, and as of now has not had any complications from the cancer. She like O’Connor did not take what the doctor prescribed with a spoon full of sugar, she knew there was a better way and sought it out.

I myself thankfully do not know how horrifying a cancer diagnosis is, but I have had my share of medical problems. About two years ago I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an autoimmune disease that targets the lining of the entire intestinal tract. The doctors that were working with me strongly suggested that I go on Remicade, a biologic therapy with side effects ranging from lupus to lymphoma. Before they can administer the drug they are forced to make the patient sign a waiver. Hesitantly I accepted, and got the infusion. Not even twenty four hours later, I was starting to feel better, which meant my body was able to absorb some nutrients and that the inflammation in my intestines had decreased. The next day I was discharged from the hospital. In order to fully get back to feeling well I had to drastically change my diet. NO more fried foods, no more high fiber foods, a limit on proteins and vegetables. But with the diet change came new light. I started recovering and feeling better than ever before. Once I was strong enough, I turned to exercise to help regulate my digestive tract. Another big part of managing chronic disease such as Crohn’s or cancer is to reduce stress. Stress is proven to make symptoms of Crohn’s worse, so by taking up yoga and meditation I have learned to reduce my stress and live a happier healthier life.

If I was diagnosed with cancer I would handle it similarly to how I handled my Crohn’s. Initially I researched it excessively, reading about and talking to patients, doctors, researchers. Then I planned a strategy that I felt would work best, based on the research, for me. I am not sure how easy creating a battle strategy would be if I was given the diagnosis of cancer. I think many people get afraid when they hear the word and just shut down and listen to whatever the doctor says. I would hope I would be able to be as strong as my mother and James O’Connor and not simply blindly follow the advice of one single doctor.

Each person should build their individual plan of attack; what works for some may not be right for others. No matter what method a person chooses, I believe they should trust in the treatment process and be confident that they will leave the battle victorious.

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