Thurber, Graham | Surviving Mesothelioma

Thurber, Graham

The Wisdom of Integrity

Rhio O’Connor faced an unimaginable challenge. In a split second, in the beat of a heart, his existence took a dramatic life-changing encounter. Would I have the unwavering faith that Rhio O’Connor displayed? His determinations to over power his fear, when his life choices seemed bleak, how did Rhio’s unique spirit help to manage this challenge? How would I personally handle a challenge like Rhio faced?

When I was 17, and a senior in high school, I had a severe stomach attach which caused vomiting for two days, and landed me in the hospital with an emergency appendectomy. To my surprise the doctors had removed my healthy appendix. Later, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, which had caused the flair up. What in the world was Crohn’s Disease? It wasn’t until I saw the tears in my mother’s eyes when first learning about the diagnosis, that my concern grew. I’m a big guy, 6’2″, 200 pounds plus, a football player…and men are taught not to cry! I quietly waited through the doctor’s explanations, symptoms, and course of possible physical deterioration during my lifetime. I learned that Crohn’s is an inflammatory disease, which causes swelling in the intestines. Because the symptoms of Crohn’s disease are similar to other intestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, it can be difficult to diagnose, and difficult to manage. Even though my prognosis wasn’t as complicated as Rhio’s cancer, it was still devastating to me. When I got home, and to my room, it was then that I could finally break down. It was like a faucet coming on without my permission, and I couldn’t stop it. My life was just beginning; I was headed off to college, studying Business Administration, getting to play Division II Football! My fears were out of control. How was I to cope?

It was through a long discussion with my grandmother that I realized I still had many choices. Wisdom is sometimes long in coming. My grandmother, like Rhio, understood the true meaning of life, brought on by a lifetime of challenges, blessing, trials and tribulations. Long before my diagnosis, or any fear of health problems, I had built a bond with my grandmother, and ever since, she has been my mentor. Grandma had always stressed the importance of knowledge! Taking the time to learn about all things, and all people, regardless of their walk of life, or heritage. She has challenged me to get involved, understand, and to serve. Not only socially, but in school and in the community. Grandma and I would often talk about how important it is to think beyond you. If you are truly a person of integrity, you will look beyond your own hourglass, into the needs of others. Everyone has a need for validation, acceptance, and a feeling of belonging, regardless of education, finances, disabilities, rank, religion, or culture.

Grandma helped me understand that a person’s strength lies in being non-judgmental, and that you should always try to have empathy for the things that we do not understand. Now I was faced with a major illness, and in my mind a disability, what steps would I take to manage my life? How would I get involved, understand and serve others. Like the amazing spirit of Rhio O’Connor, how would I look beyond my self, beyond the box, like he had? It was through Grandma’s guidance that I had joined Boy Scouts of America, where I was a member for twelve years. It was during this time that I participated in many leadership trainings. As I progressed through the rank of Eagle Scout, I took on many challenging scenarios, and I knew like Rhio, that all challenges started with a solid plan!

Since that time I have come up with a life plan that has helped me stay sane, and keeps my life balanced. Tackling my key problem, Crohn’s Disease like Rhio tackled his cancer, head-on! Hopefully, in balancing my life, I could help others with similar issues. I used the following steps to organize my plan of attack. First, acceptance and understanding of the disease was my focus. What medical strategy would I use? This is where I relied on my key support systems: my faith, my parents, and my doctors’ guidance. Secondly, I started to look on-line, and meet others with Crohn’s Disease, not only in my town, but also in the Crohn’s Community. Many of Crohn’s first symptoms are noticed in the later teens, and are prevalent in both males and females. As I began to know about the Crohn’s Community, my goal was to encourage involvement from other students my age, in getting out the word on symptoms and solutions, to help us all cope. Helping to build a strong support system of hope and faith was an important step! Rhio’s legacy was blessed with a strong support system like the Cancer Monthly Publication, which has taken on Rhio’s story, sharing his spirit for living, and keeping the cancer community informed, including details about the cancer that took Rhio’s life, mesothelioma. Also, the website www.survivingmesothelioma.com was established to help others learn more about different types of cancer, possible treatments, and surviving cancer, and is an informative cornerstone to helping understand cancer and its concerns.

Now I am a sophomore in college, and over the past few years I have had several opportunities to get involved with my community. One key part of dealing with the symptoms of Crohn’s, like mesothelioma, is helping others understand the issues of managing the disease. Building a strong support system of understanding around your fears and frustrations! Taking the time to research diet, rest, and exercise, and how a balance of these can keep your quality of life, at its possible best. Never giving up on hopes for a cure, looking outside the box for every feasible glimpse of serenity.

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