Imagine sitting in an examine room for your yearly, routine exam. While making small talk about the weather and latest news stories, he gathers your vital signs and checks your reflexes. Next comes the line of questioning about diet and exercise, and if you have noticed anything different in your health. Hesitant, you tell the doctor you have been experiencing some chest pain and shortness of breath, along with some stomach pains. He pokes and prods at you and begins to question your family history. You casually tell him about your uncle who has diabetes and your grandfather who died of heart disease. He asked about your line of work. Well, you worked in a factory for a number of years manufacturing industrial products. The doctor orders a biopsy of your chest confirming his initial thoughts. In a follow up appointment, the doctor delivers the news. You have mesothelioma.
Wow, what is next? Chemotherapy? Surgery? I can only imagine the thoughts that went through James “Rhio” O’Connor’s head when he received the news that he had this rare cancer. Instead of accepting the news and his inevitable fate, O’Connor began eagerly researching his condition learning everything possible about the illness and treatments associated with it. Mesothelioma is an uncommon cancer associated with the mineral asbestos. Asbestos is embedded in many industrial materials and its deadly effects are undetectable for up to fifty years. Once embedded in the membrane that protects our internal organs, asbestos causes the cells (in the protective membrane) to multiply uncontrollably and invading other internal organs and tissues. After learning about his disease, he created his own management plan and lived with his disease for six years longer than expected.
This story is truly inspiring. If confronted with the grim prognosis of months to live, I am not sure I could face the illness with such courage. Initially I would learn everything I could about my diagnosis. I would read every article and journal I could get my hands on. Learning about every available treatment, as well as the research being conducted every day is vital to survival. Additionally, I would speak to multiple doctors and scientists to learn about modern treatments. Instead of utilizing the standard chemotherapy treatment, I would explore other options. Specifically, I would explore natural, organic treatments for cancer. I would start by researching changes in diet and herbal treatments, as well as talking to specialists in the field. Moreover, questioning the side effects of these procedures is essential. How is chemotherapy, surgery, or herbal treatments going to affect me in the future? Will chemotherapy eventually result in a decrease in my overall health? As stated previously, speaking to multiple doctors and specialist, as well as spending hours in the library researching are all essential in gaining answers. Next I would speak to my family for advice and support. I believe only my family would be able to help me make the most informed decision regarding my treatment.
Aside from utilizing the advances in medicine, I would begin to transform my mind. Instead of focusing on the disease and arduous task ahead, I would attempt to focus on the positives, transforming my mentality and my spirit. By maintaining an active lifestyle, my mind would remain healthy. Although I would not like to think of the possibility of death, I would go places and do things that I might otherwise skip or think twice about. I would do things I love for as long as my body allowed. Ultimately I would not accept ‘no’ or ‘there is no other options’ for answers. Furthermore, I would spend time in the hospital with fighting and recovering patients in order to learn about their struggles. I would help form a support group among cancer survivors and those fighting to survive. We would go out for dinners, weekend trips, and shopping. Talking about our illness, the struggles we face, and learning about each other provides an outlet away from the hospital, doctors, and medicine. Also, perhaps we could learn about different treatment options from each other. Although treatments might vary among people, gaining first hand information about a different treatment will be beneficial to doctors and patients alike.
So, after hearing the seemingly devastating diagnosis, what is next? Researching your illness, as well as exploring your options, should be at the top of your list. Knowing and truly believing that you can beat the cancer is essential. Surrounding yourself with only positive influences, such as family and other cancer fighters and survivors is also a must. While no one wishes for a routine, yearly exam to result in cancer, being prepared is necessary. If it is not you who is diagnosed, perhaps your mother or brother will face this challenge. Regardless, gathering information and always being prepared will aid in our quest to combat this deadly disease.