Tigani, Zachary – Surviving Mesothelioma

Tigani, Zachary

James “Rhio” O’Connor was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2001 called pleural mesothelioma. He was told by doctors that he had less than a year to live due to the tumor’s location (it was near his spine). He was also told that surgery wasn’t an option and chemotherapy would only slightly lengthen his life but would also leave him weak and tired. Upon hearing his diagnosis, Rhio rejected his doctor’s notion and searched for as much information as he could about his illness and possible treatment. He spoke to numerous doctors, researchers and patients and read about many different therapies in an attempt to find a way to beat his cancer. The method that he was able to create for himself added more than six years to his life, greatly surpassing the one year diagnosis he was initially given. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that occurs in the layer of tissue that covers the majority of our internal organs. The type of cancer that Rhio was diagnosed with as stated above is called pleural mesothelioma, and is the most common form of mesothelioma. Some of the signs and symptoms include shortness of breath, painful breathing, painful coughing, chest pains under the rib cage, and unusual lumps of tissue under the skin near the rib cage, unexplained weight loss, and dry coughing. Doctors have yet to determine the initial genetic mutation that leads to mesothelioma, but they have found a number of factors that may lead to this genetic mutation. One common factor, and the factor that lead to Rhio’s diagnosis, is being exposed to asbestos.

Rhio’s story is an inspiration to anyone who reads it because of his strength and will to overcome his dire diagnosis. His story inspires me because it proves that no matter what prognosis you receive, a person’s will to live is the only true deciding factor. Prior to reading Rhio’s story, if I was given a cancer diagnosis similar to the one he received from his doctor, I would have taken the doctor’s advice, gotten my affairs in order and tried enjoy the remaining months of my life. After reading his story about how Rhio was able to overcome his initial diagnosis by rejecting his doctor’s prognosis and coming up with a treatment designed for him makes me believe that if I was put in that position, I could have the strength to pull through like he did. If I was given the diagnosis today that I had a short amount of time left to live due to a fatal illness, there are a few steps I would take to see if there was any way possible to extend my life expectancy. First, I would see if chemotherapy, radiation, or even surgery were options. These are not necessarily the first choices I would make, but I would want to see if these were options that could be pursued at a later time. In my mind, chemotherapy and radiation are last resorts due to the amount of stress placed on the body during those procedures. The next step I would take would be along the line of the ones Rhio took by going out and researching and studying every source possible that is even remotely related to whatever has made me sick. Whether it is books, articles, websites, accounts from others with the same or similar symptoms and how they were able to overcome them, or from experts and specialists in that particular field, I wouldn’t stop until I was positive I knew everything I could about what was making me ill. After gathering all possible information, I would consult doctors and researchers to try and come up with a non-invasive, non-radiation treatment in an effort to add time to my life and to try and rid my body of its illness.

Just because the route that Rhio took worked for him it doesn’t mean that the same route can be taken for everyone. Each individual is different and there may be something completely that could work. I firmly believe that a person’s will to live is much greater than any diagnosis a doctor can give and Rhio is the perfect example of that belief. In this day of modern medicine, I feel that as patients, we are too quick to accept our doctor’s word as a final conclusion without out exploring other possible options and Rhio has shown that there are alternate options available. He is an inspiration to everyone to realize that we are our own best advocates and giving up should never be an option.

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