On December 21, 2009 a man was admitted into the hospital for renal failure. Abdominal pain and other symptoms had been present for six weeks previous, and multiple tests administered. All were inconclusive. The driving pain that led him to the hospital was later found to be his gallbladder, yet almost simultaneously the kidneys were reacting. After being admitted, the initial prognosis was a raging kidney infection that would be cleared up within a day or two, then a quick surgery to remove the gallbladder. The favorite phrase circling his hospital bed was, “Out by Christmas”.
This however was not the case.
Each day spent in the hospital, his kidneys worsened. By the 24th, the kidneys were hardly functioning. The doctors had no prognosis to treat this ill man.
The entire family gathered around his hospital bed Christmas Eve to watch the RN’s every move on their fading father. IV’s, pain medication, steroids and series of other temporary means were administered in hopes that whatever this man had would clear up by itself for a Christmas miracle.
December 25 came and passed with no clear significance. All the days seemed to blend together. Everyday was filled with the same floor tiles leading to room 107, typical Christmas cut outs embroidering the door, and the routine of entering open minded and coming out with no explanation of what was happening to their father and husband. The only thing that seemed to change were the amounts of Christmas trees drawn on hospital paper towels draping the walls.
After being shuffled to the next local hospital in a snow storm, another series of tests, and the intrusive kidney biopsy, the man leaned to his wife in the rare moment of them being alone. He told her, “If I don’t make it out of this, make sure our grand daughter remembers me. I want her to always know her Opa loves her. And also that our children always stay close together.”
The wife leaned in, with tears in her eyes and said, “You didn’t think you were allowed to leave me did you? You’re going to make it through this. And our children will always stay close.”
I am one of those children. This man is my father.
A few days following the kidney biopsy my dad was diagnosed with a rare form of an autoimmune disease by the name of Wagners.
A medical definition of Wagners is “body production of antibodies that, instead of attacking bacteria and viruses, attack the blood vessels in the lungs, kidneys and upper airway. This causes the blood vessels to become abnormal, leading to things like nose bleed, coughing up blood, and kidneys shutting down. If left untreated, a person can have life-threatening bleeding in the lungs, and/or kidney failure.”
Though it can be treated by means of immunosuppressants (used to calm down the the immune system), steroids, or oral chemo therapy, it is an incurable disease.
I look to my father as an inspiration and motivation. Even though the road has been short in beating his disease, I have become aware through my experiences and my pursuit towards education in the health field of what is important both in the moral and professional field in dealing with this type of situation. Such things include accepting the inevitable, understanding and evaluation, becoming educated, making the best choice for yourself and following through whole heatedly.
First, we must accept the prognosis. The specialists have given the facts, but it is up to us as the recipients to accept that it can and has happened to us. We are limited by being unable to change our past choices, but from the point we are given our answer, we must take it full force and prepare for what is ahead.
Next is understanding and evaluating our disease. Take cancer for instance. By looking at the cells in our bodies, we can for the most part conclude by what degenerative state we are in, the stage or type of cancer we have. Typically, 80% of all adult cancers are environmentally evolved. James Rhio O’Connor was no exception. In his case, it was the asbestos.
Exposure to asbestos particles can be from working in certain manufacturing jobs, or having contact with the particles through clothing. The asbestos can start to form into mesothelioma, the cancer Rhio had, which has symptoms anything from shortness of breath, chest pain, or even fluid surrounding the lung.
Because of how advanced his disease had become, surgery was not an option, nor would they accept the harmful effects of radiation. Chemo seemed to be the only choice, and even that would only prolong his life a few months. (To learn more about Rhio’s cancer that took his life visit www.survivingmesothelioma.com )
Why accept a treatment that is designed to kill cells in the human body, when you don’t take into account that it is not personalized at all? Every single case is different, even if only by one factor. This knowledge can be the difference between a few months of a hospital room, or a few years of free will.
I was able to converse with my Human Physiology Professor, who was a formal surgeon, on this subject. He told me about two cases he had worked on.
The first was a very slender, average twelve year old girl, who entered his room with redness and swelling in all the joints throughout her hands. She tested positive for rheumatoid arthritis. After seeing a specialist and determining that she had full blown arthritis, the treatment prescribed was cortisol for her pain. Within three months of the cortisol treatment, she had developed into a heavier set girl with fat mostly covering her arms, legs, face and neck and confined to a wheelchair. The long term affects are unfortunate, but with how aggressive her case was, her life would have been unbearable otherwise.
The second case involved an older gentleman, also with rheumatoid arthritis, but not as severe. His treatment involved minimal amounts of anti inflammatory medication daily. He was able to venture on with his life normally as if he did not have the disease. Had the doctors not paid attention to the different cases, and administered a typical arthritis treatment, who is to know whether either patient would have lived a full life.
Which leads me to my next point of being educated.
Whether it is consulting multiple doctors, specialists, internet articles, medical journals or even support groups. Any link to knowledge can help in choosing the treatment specifically for you. The key to good information is to validate it’s recent and accurate. Had my dad not thoroughly researched his disease, and settled for the first internet journal he read, we would have been under the notion that his disease would take him within a year. But due to medical advances and specialized education in medicine, he is able to live a long life, companion to his disease.
Through all this obtained knowledge, you are capable of making an educated decision. This is perhaps one of the greatest tools in prolonging life. The choice of the patient.
My professor referred to another story of an old friend. She was diagnosed with cancer and after two weeks of chemo decided she would rather die than have treatment. After researching all possible causes of her cancer, she realized a huge part was due to eating habits. She told her doctor she would stop treatment. He told her she would die within two months.
Immediately she changed to an all natural diet. Only organic foods, with no chemical additives; healthy and balanced. With this lifestyle she created, her immune system jumped up and was able to attack the cancer on its own.
The doctor said chemo. But her alternate route has kept her in remission for almost 11 years.
Rhio’s case was very similar. Chemo was suggested, he refused, found his own path and survived an astonishing seven years.
Once you make your decision, don’t second guess yourself. Go into your personalized treatment without mediocrity. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt that you made the best possible decision for yourself. If you choose your direction in life, you have something to live for. And the will to live a quality life may be what beats the disease.
If I were to be diagnosed one day, I honestly cannot say the route I would take. All I know is that I would surround myself with the people whom I love and are inspirational to me, like my dad. I would trust that they would help me journey through the process listed above and let me live with no regrets. I want to be able to say with a clear conscience as quoted by the song Hope, “I’m ready to live. I’m ready to dream. I’m ready for fear, love and everything in between.” Cancer may not be a choice. But living with purpose is.