Beating the Odds
There is one sure thing to be learned in treating cancer: never, ever give up! I personally know only two cancer patients: One is surviving the battle, and another who fought diligently for many years, never complaining, until it finally took her life. This essay discusses Mesothelioma “a rare form of cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the body’s internal organs. With rare exceptions, standard treatment for all but localized mesothelioma is generally not curative. Most studies report median survival of less than a year. However, some long-term mesothelioma survivors do exist and their prognosis seems independent of the treatment or therapies pursued. If this is true, mesothelioma prognosis and survival may be more dependent on individual differences among patients (and perhaps the non-conventional therapies they use) and less dependent upon conventional mesothelioma treatments (see www.cancermonthly.com).” To read stories, testimonies, and news of some of the inspiring survivors go to: https://survivingmesothelioma.com
What are the differences in traditional cancer treatments and the results enjoyed by long-term survivors such as Rhio O’Connor and Paul Kraus? Unfortunately, all cancer, not just Mesothelioma, affects all of you and everything in your life, not just one body part, but there are several strategies, suggested by the experiences of these two men, that you can use to regain at least some measure of control: make sure you are in touch with your faith and your God; be part of the treatment team; find out everything you can and weigh treatment alternatives carefully; and, most importantly, know when to “let go.”
If I were to thoughtfully consider the ramifications of being diagnosed with Mesothelioma or any cancer, and after dealing with the initial fear, denial, and anger – the “why me; why now” – I would first turn to my faith in God. I’ve had enough survival experiences in my life to know that God loves each of us personally. I recently had a near-death work accident in which this love and personal care was yet again proven to me. It is difficult, but possible, to be thankful for your struggle and grow from it. While many of us might have the tendency to blame God (or anyone else handy) for our plight, the quicker we can get past this, the sooner we can devote our energies and creativity to finding ways to cope with a new and often difficult situation instead of expending it on a situation we can do nothing about. Receiving a cancer diagnosis brings us up short and prompts us to get to know ourselves. It gives us an opportunity to discover the amazing body each of us has, and the incredible spirit of hope and gratitude that comes from paying attention to the things that really matter in life. Learn about God and spiritual things. There is great comfort in knowing you are not alone.
My next step in conquering Mesothelioma would be to take charge of my own situation. Every patient has a fundamental right to be informed about, and to choose among, the best available options. You need to actively and meaningfully participate in your cancer care. While our doctors are amazing, they need our full cooperation in defining a course of action. Modern medicine provides hope and treatment in ways unknown to any previous generation, but is often taken for granted. It is easy to complain about health care until you are the one in the drafty hospital gown. Doctors spend countless hours in school and otherwise learning more and better ways to cure cancer. Thank them for their concern, their hard work, and knowledge, but don’t ignore your own contribution. Put yourself in your doctor’s shoes when he or she has to deliver the news. It is not his or her fault, it’s nobody’s fault. Find another way to vent your anger and concern. Take time to listen and learn from your doctor. The more you educate yourself on the treatment possibilities, the more help you can be and the better questions you can ask. Rather than telling you what you need, make sure your doctors listen to you and provide clear, well-defined choices.
Spend every waking moment learning every possible option available. The library, the internet, friends, family, the grapevine, personal experiences, and so many other resources are right at our fingertips. Be grateful for the wealth of information and take advantage of it. Neither God nor a doctor can be any help with an unwilling and unmotivated patient. Don’t fret about things you can’t change. This can very possibly be the hardest thing to do. Cancer can be caused by so many things. In the case of Mesothelioma, there is a good possibility it is tied to asbestos and exposure to it. It is not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. We simply didn’t know enough to avoid the problem. If we knew all of the causes of cancer we could do away with them. Unfortunately, we learn as we go. The good news is that there are countless others who have useful information for us. Find it. Open your mind to all of the possibilities. Patient surveys suggest that over 70% of advanced cancer patients use some form of alternative or complementary therapy, everything from dietary changes and supplements to ozone therapy, mind and body exercises, physical exercise regimens, and so on. For example, Eastern medicine with its focus on the mind and body relationship is incredible. Learn about it. Our bodies have an unseen power and Eastern medicine uses every means possible to tap into it. You are not doing everything you can until you have investigated the possibilities and weighed the consequences.
James O’Conner (Rhio) “is a good example of this. He was determined to survive his cancer. Working with professional clinicians, he formulated a regimen of over 100 supplements a day, changed his diet, practiced mind-body medicine, and relied on his own discipline to see him through the difficult times ahead. Rhio survived for 7 ½ more years through his determination, knowledge, inexorable spirit, belief in something greater than himself, and the ability to make tough choices -qualities that spell success in any endeavor (See www.survivingmesothelioma.com ).”
Another facet in facing cancer is service. I believe those like James “Rhio” O’Connor and Paul Kraus get an extension on life by finding a way to serve others while fighting their own battles. Paul Kraus’ book, Surviving Mesothelioma and Other Cancers: A Patient’s Guide, is acknowledged as the best book on the subject. Who can count the numbers of cancer victims he might have influenced? Learn the potential causes of your cancer and do everything you can to change the circumstance for someone else. There is a great strength and happiness in helping others. You don’t necessarily have to write a book. A Harvard study that looked at nearly 5,000 individuals over a period of 20 years suggests that “Happiness spreads through social networks like an emotional contagion…When an individual becomes happy, the network effect can be measured up to three degrees. One person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only his friends, but his friends’ friends, and his friends’ friends’ friends. The effect lasts for up to one year…This is the first study to demonstrate the indirect spread of happiness, showing that one person’s emotional state can be affected by someone he doesn’t directly know. Previous research has shown that certain behavior-based phenomena such as obesity and smoking cessation spread through networks like a social contagion, but this is the first to demonstrate that emotions can as well. This research adds further proof to the idea that because we are all interconnected in social networks; our health is interconnected (See http://web.med.harvard.edu ).” In relation to this study, and in their efforts to raise awareness and educate and help others, James O’Connor and Paul Kraus not only helped themselves by beating the odds, but they influenced countless others, directly and indirectly, by making their journey a mission of knowledge, service, and happiness.
Ultimately, cancer treatment has two main goals: curing cancer and making quality of life as good as possible. For many cancer patients, a time comes when treatment no longer seems like a good choice because the quality of life is no longer acceptable or the side effects, time, and costs are greater than the hope for a cure. It is never easy to shift focus, but it is something every cancer patient (all of us in fact), needs to accept and plan for. There simply are things “worse than death.” Eventually we have to put our fate in that great “unknown” – but not until after all we can do.