Turner, Kayla – Surviving Mesothelioma

Turner, Kayla

Taking Your Life into Your Own Hands

On July 11, 2009 Mr. James “Rhio” O’Connor became a victim of mesothelioma1, losing a difficult battle against the deadly cancer. However, Mr. O’Connor did not lose this battle without a strong and determined seven year fight. Though given a prognosis of only a year, this man dove beyond typical cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation to outlive his given expiration date; he consulted with medical experts in constructing treatment methods that would be most effective for him. Mr. O’Connor took his life into his own hands, rather than settling for the sentence given by one doctor. It is completely evident that Mr. O’Connor was—and is—a true hero.

Cancer is one of the biggest issues in the world right now. An American Cancer Association study reported that in 2009 about 562,340 were estimated to die by the end of the year. That’s approximately 15,000 people a day2. There have been approximately 713,220 new cases in females in 2009 and 269,800 deaths. Also in 2009, about 63,360 African American are expected to die from cancer3.14, 250 people in Mississippi were expected to die of some form of cancer in 20092. Being that I am an African American female, only having just recently left Mississippi for school, these statistics leave me highly concerned. Much of my family, women especially, are still residents of Mississippi and are older, which makes my concern for them greater.

Cancer is a disease that has disrupted my family on at least three occasions. My mother’s oldest brother, of whom I was not graced the opportunity to meet, died of a rare stomach cancer at young age of 16 after being directly exposed to farming chemicals in a tractor accident. Though I never met him, I was always aware of the pain caused by my family’s loss. My mother, her siblings, and my grandparents suffered because of it for a long time.

The second time cancer affected me was more direct. My grandmother (my father’s mother) died of pancreatic cancer when I was 11 years old. I remember seeing my father cry at her funeral but not being allowed to comfort him because of seating arrangements. He, along with the rest of my grandmother’s children, was directed to sit in the front. The grandchildren were instructed to occupy pews that were rows behind them. I never feel like I got to have a grandmother very long to take advantage of the benefits grandchildren seem to be entitled to like in the relationships I see on television. However, I do appreciate the few summers of cookies and cakes and constantly being spoiled that I can say I experienced.

The third and most recent encounter I have had with cancer has been the most difficult coping with. In 2004, a month after my 13th birthday, I lost my father to an extremely short battle with lung cancer. He didn’t smoke, but he was a deputy sheriff, so I supposed he was exposed to a lot of secondhand smoke. Nevertheless, there are several other factors that contribute to the acquisition of lung cancer; therefore the cause could have been anything. My father underwent a lot of chemotherapy and radiation and so I literally watched him shrink before my eyes. His body did not respond well at all the treatments. In fact, I believe it mad his condition much worse. A cousin of ours insisted that he try more natural treatments like herbs and fruits to strength his body. However, my father was a stubborn man and he was always one to rely heavily on doctors.

I strongly believe that lung cancer did not kill my father. I believe the treatments did. Unlike Mr. O’Connor, my father did not take his life into his own hands, but instead handed it over to men in white coats. When my father agreed to hospice care, I knew he had given up. He had basically retreated to his home hospital bed, and each day he waited to die. My father lost the strength that Mr. O’Connor held on to.

If I was put into a situation like Mr. O’Connor, I would do exactly what he did with no question! Dealing with that emaciated version of my father forced me to realize that one or two doctors don’t always have the answer. It is tremendously important to self educated yourself in the very way that Mr. O’Connor did. I would make serious use of the internet and the library as well as the opinions of several specialists on my condition and form a decision of my own based on what I feel would be best for my health.

Mr. O’Connor is no doubt inspiring for his actions in a time I imagine was the most difficult of his life. I am certain things got hard but I am not concerned with that. What matters most is how long he dealt with the suffering he was experiencing without giving up. This was a man of optimism, courage, self-will, determination—a hero.

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