Cancer is a scary reality that a lot of people don’t see or choose to ignore in our world, especially in college. I’m a 20-year-old girl, a sophomore in college; I go to school, work as an RA at our dorms and hang out with my friends. On the outside I seem like a normal college student, carefree and fun-loving. On the inside, cancer is constantly in the back of my head.
I have a large history of cancer in my family. Once a year I go to a dermatologist for skin cancer checkups, commonly getting precancerous moles removed, as well as worrisome infected cysts. I am very high risk for skin cancer because of my hair and skin color and because I’ve had relatives on my fraternal side of the family die of skin cancer.
When I was six, my maternal grandfather died of prostate, colon and brain cancer. Last year we found out that it is most likely genetic when my mother was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. My family is believed to have Lynch Syndrome, increasing our chances of cancer dramatically. My mom had a hysterectomy last year and after a struggle to recover from the surgery and changes in her diet, she is a year and a half cancer free. Since then my mom’s sister has been checked for cancer and will soon have surgery to prevent it. I have been to doctors since then to check my risk. Both of my brothers have to start getting colonoscopies and prostate checks at very young ages as well because of my family’s high risk. My point with all of this is that cancer is a lot more common than a lot of people think. I know a lot of college students that are unaware of its danger but some people, like me, are constantly aware of the threat it poses.
I am often facing different questions about my families cancer, like: Will I get cancer? Will I give it to my kids? Will I be able to have kids, a lot of women in my family can’t? Should I try anyway or get an early hysterectomy? James “Rhio” O’Connor’s story is very inspirational for me. When told at age 61 that he only have a year to live, he didn’t give up and that’s what is so beautiful about his story. Rhio was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Rhio fought the deadly cancer and survived seven and a half years longer than expected to the age of 69. Mesothelioma is a very deadly cancer. It is cancer of the mesothelium, which is a membrane that covers most of the internal organs protecting them and produces a lubricating fluid that allows the organs to move more easily against adjacent structures.
Mesothelioma occurs when the cells become abnormal and divide without control or order and can easily metastasize. Statistics on www.survingmesothelioma.com show that only about 9% of people diagnosed survive only for five years with traditional treatments. Knowing this, it is easy to understand why Rhio looked for alternative choices. Conventional methods include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The most common treatments, which are different combinations of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, only help people live another 7-18.1 months on average. Rhio made it obvious he would not settle for those options and by administering some hard decisions, positive attitude and the belief in something bigger than himself, he outlived his prognosis.
If faced with these issues and questions, I would like to believe that I would be a strong as Rhio. At this point in my life, I feel that prevention is the best option and have been proactive about it. There are a lot of ways an individual can live their life in order to prevent cancer; sometimes it is unavoidable, but it’s worth a try. For me, an early hysterectomy is highly recommended in order to prevent the genetic cancer in my family. I have a great uncle that was diagnosed with emphysema and lung cancer from working with grain. He chose not to use traditional treatments and became a strict vegetarian, eating only vegetables and fruits that he grew out of his own garden. He ended up curing his cancer and living another 20 years into his 90s. Living a healthier lifestyle does a lot to prevent and even get rid of an already present cancer. Like my great uncle chose, one can step out of the American lifestyle and quit eating foods loaded with preservatives and chemicals.
I have spent much of my life choosing alternate treatments when possible. My mother was exposed to chemicals when I was a young child and has extreme chemical sensitivities because of it. Since that accident, she has gone to a naturopathic doctor as have I.
If I were diagnosed with a fatal cancer, I would turn to alternative medicines. For me, surgery would be an option if it had high chances of curing the cancer. After surgery I would look to other options like Rhio did and turn toward natural supplements, diet changes and mind-body medicines, yoga and the chakras being a few examples. My experience with cancer in my family and with friends has shown me that chemo and radiation aren’t as effective as they seem. Mostly they help people avoid the pain for a couple more months and prolong their lives for a short time. Who wants to live the last part of their lives feeling miserable? Yes, there is a lot of pain with cancer, but with radiation and chemo, it sucks the life out of the person so long before their lives are over. They don’t even get to live their last couple months. There are a lot of alternative methods out there that people used before we had chemo and radiation that are better for the quality of life, human dignity and sometimes survival. In a prognosis like Rhio’s, I feel the biggest question is: What is the best choice for quality of life?
Upon diagnosis, I would talk to my doctor about all my choices and then get second, third and as many more opinions as I could. I would see a specialist and a naturopath. I would research the disease on the internet, in the library and search for survivors or people living with it and see what they did and how. I would put my life in God’s hands and let him show me where to go. I would turn to friends, family and religious leaders for advice and support. I would look at universities that could be conducting research projects on the issue as well as research centers.
I think that chemo and radiation would be my last choices. If my life was coming to a close, I would want to live it to my fullest. I would want to enjoy my family and friends while I could, not lay in a bed weak and sick.
Cancer is an incredibly scary and common thing. A lot of people avoid thinking about it and therefore don’t do the research that they should. It starts with prevention and if that’s not enough there are a lot of treatments that are available with research. After all, there are so many different things on this magnificent Earth of ours and I believe we can find answers right there. Maybe there’s not a cure but at least there can be a better ending than chemo or radiation. The choice is up to the individual’s; I hope to follow in my mom’s and uncle’s steps in order to turn to a healthier and more natural option. I hope that I can have the strength and the faith that Rhio had in his situation. Most of all,no matter how my life ends if it is cancer, I hope that I can be proud of my decisions and leave happy and peaceful.
By: Truesdell, Ann