It takes a very special kind of determination to handle the everyday tribulations of living with cancer. Fortunately there are people like James O’Connor for inspiration. James “Rhio” O’Connor was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a cancer of the upper body, and given one year to live. Despite the unquestionable emotional devastation, Rhio stayed clear minded and decided to take matters into his own hands. Instead of taking the typical approach to fighting cancer, Rhio found it best to do his own research. This way he could determine how his own body felt, diagnose his own symptoms, and treat each one accordingly. It is not common to use the ‘alternative’ approach when battling cancer, but Rhio took great pride in the research he was conducting and made great advances in the use of natural substances to treat his Mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a cancer caused by the inhalation of asbestos. It inhibits the use of the lungs and respiratory systems in the body by attacking the mesothelium, the soft outer cells of organs (cancermonthly). The symptoms are those common of a multitude of other illnesses and can often go undetected as cancer. This can lead to a short prognosis because the cancer is often spread beyond control. In Rhio’s case, he was given a short term and a bleak outlook for survival. Fortunately, this is not always true. In some cancers early detection is the best way to fight and cure the disease. Some require only surgery, some radiation, and others a mix of both. Chemotherapy is considerably the harshest of the ‘typical’ treatments and is the cause of hair loss, weight loss, and nutrition problems. During his battle, Rhio worked with clinicians to render a disease fighting routine of supplements, and made dietary and lifestyle changes. For Rhio, it was not worth the stress of chemotherapy- especially when the chances of it curing him were slim. It was not worth the risk of surgery, either; the tumor had formed too closely to his spine. Radiation was not even an option. It is unfortunate that there is not a less-harsh cancer treatment available. If you are within the last months, weeks even, of your life it is a tough choice to force yourself into a tiring schedule of treatments to hopefully find a cure versus living carefree with acceptance of your fate.
It is said that the only thing we humans share in common is that we are all dying. In a pallid medical room, if I were to be told my time is coming, I would be overwhelmed with emotion. The shock would outweigh the terror in my veins and the disheartening taste in my mouth. I would feel my heart slowing, clutch my chest, and gasp for air, as my knees gave out and I fell to the cold and spotlessly disinfected hospital floor. Or perhaps I would stay calm, almost serene, with an acceptance of my fate and retain enough function to pursue the doctors with questions. This is a situation I hope to never be in I can in no way describe how it might feel to hear the words “You have cancer.”
If given a year to live, with no direct cure, I would outline a few guidelines to live by to be taken accordingly. First, I would prepare all of my personal items. I would deliberately demolish items that have no meaning to me. I do not wish upon people the responsibility of rummaging through my junk. It is natural, if anything, to leave this world as I entered it- completely unburdened with things that are meaningless. Most of the ‘stuff’ I have collected through the years holds no more significance than my cell phone number. In considering the ‘desert island’ question: “What five items would you bring with you?” I often don’t come up with any personal items save a fine piece of literature. Literature is something of high value to me. The only electrical item I can think of needing is my music player. A passion for music is just as important as the value of literature; both have been around for many, many years. Music will always have significance, and it is something worth treasuring. In this regard, the arts are a connection to the human spirit and offer means of expression which are far more valuable than any email or txt message I will ever send. The arts offer a way to build character through creative output of a song, a painting, or a book. These are things that represent how I want to be remembered.
Next, I would spend time with distant friends and relatives. I would mention I may be gone soon. It is important to me to have as much emotional support as possible. The worries of others would instill an unspoken fear; I wish to conjure fear from others because I want to confront fear in my fight. To confront fear is to understand, and to understand is to be fearless. Instead of experiencing fear and grief, I would rather celebrate the life I have. This is done with a short phone call or visit, just to say hello and let them know I care. These are the people who are influencing my everyday moods, thoughts, and opinions. I owe a great deal to them, and I love them very much.
With the savings I have earned, I would travel to all the places I had always wished to go. Traveling would act as a release from all the ties in my life. I would be rid of the restraints of money and the monotony of day-to-day living. I would be distancing myself from things that are constant yet hold no worth. Through this, I would create a sense of true self-worth. I would experience art and culture unlike any I have seen before. This is an inspiration to live- it is as simple as seeing how other people live. This is where you realize your own human nature; this is when you know life is all you really have.
Finally, the most meaningful and simple act would be to spend time with family and friends whom I love. These are the people who have influenced me with the most prominence- who have made me who I am- and I would wish for them to be some of my last memories.
This is precisely why I want to make life worth living. So when faced with death, I can be assured that I have something to fight for. In my current position, a young college student with many aspirations and goals, it would be harmful to my academics to have to undergo everyday treatments. At the same time, I lack the will to give up my academics completely as my career goal is to research natural drug substances in cancer patients. It has been an interest of mine for some time due to witnessing my father living with cancer and seeing the toll it took on him. I think it would be absurd yet quite interesting to use myself as a test subject, of sorts. If I was able to perform cancer research on myself, make advancements toward natural treatments, and ultimately lead to a cure for cancer, I would find death to be infinitely more meaningful. Rhio’s will to live was unprecedented. It was due to the acceptance of his fate that he could willingly control his emotions and spend hours researching how to cure his Mesothelioma instead of spending hours trying to treat an incurable disease. Anyone could ask Rhio a whole six years after his prognoses of only one year if he was satisfied with his decision; I am utmost positive his answer was yes.