James “Rhio” O’Connor would have been a very interesting man to have met. It is a rarity to find a person who, against all professional opinion, takes it upon himself to research and combat his condition and outlive his projected life expectancy by more than half-a-decade. When he was diagnosed with Mesothelioma he was given one year to live. He took the matter into his own hands and spent hours researching all the treatments available and consulted many doctors. He finally came up with his own treatment regimen and was able to outlast his prognosis by six years. Mesothelioma is an insidious cancer that attacks the lining that covers many of our organs. It can be caused by a variety of factors including asbestos, smoking and exposure to naturally occurring minerals with similar properties to asbestos. It is difficult to diagnose because its symptoms resemble other ailments.
There was a time in my life, fairly recently, that helps me connect very much with James O’Connor. Even though I did not know him personally, and know only his story, he and I faced similar challenges. Last year in February I was hospitalized with symptoms that resembled an extreme flu: dehydration, vomiting, and exhaustion. When my sister took me to the hospital, I was barely conscious. That is the last thing I remember. I went into a diabetic coma for 36 hours, and when I awoke the doctors told me what had transpired. It turns out that I was diagnosed Type 1 Diabetes. At first I was overwhelmed, how could I have contracted this disorder? Would I be able to live a normal life? I wasn’t unhealthy, I exercised, I didn’t eat fast food, I couldn’t understand why this had happened to me. It was explained to me that Type 1 is just a random occurrence, in my case the antibodies had attacked my insulin producing cells in my liver and pancreas. My initial confusion was accompanied by anger, it was directed at nobody in particular and it made very little sense but still I could not but feel anger. The anger subsided into motivation. I realized that I must do all I could to learn about what was happening with my body and how I could learn to overcome the obstacles and live a normal life. It was frustrating at times, and still can be. But I ended up going to multiple doctors, clinics, and classes to learn how to cope with this. I wanted to learn all that I could about this condition which would from now on be a part of my life.
In the end, it has been almost a year and I am glad to say that I believe I overcame a huge obstacle in my life, probably the biggest one that I have ever confronted. It was not and obstacle because of my illness per say, luckily diabetes is not something terminal and can be managed. But my diabetes really taught me an important lesson. You need to stand up to the challenges that are presented to you and take them at full force. It was my perseverance in this case that helped me through it and made my life the way it is today.
Although I have never met Mr. O’Connor, I understand what he went through. I was more fortunate than he as my illness was not terminal. But I can connect with what he went through. When a person is presented with a situation like that, it is how we face those challenges that makes us who we are. No body else could tell me, everything will be fine. I had to find out for myself. I had to do all that was in my power to deal with what had happened and learn from it. This experience changed me in more ways that I can explain. It changed my outlook on life. Not only because it made me realize how fragile life is, in my case the doctor told me that if my sister had waited less than 12 more hours to bring me in, I wouldn’t have made it. But I truly grew as a person and found a strength within myself that I never thought I had.
Once again, my condition cannot compare with a terminal illness such as Mesothelioma. But I feel that I can relate to Mr. O’Connor’s struggle in researching and coping with a condition that changed both of our lives.
By: Valerio, Marco