Woods, Kady – Surviving Mesothelioma

Woods, Kady

Cancer is the major crisis of our time, causing immeasurable amounts of anxiety as it changes and ends millions of lives. Although James Rhio O’Connor’s life could have been tainted with this anxiety due to mesothelioma, he lived with purpose, integrity, and the knowledge that he could and would make a difference. Mesothelioma is a very unique form of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos and it develops in the lining of the body’s internal organs. O’Connor did not give up when he was given one year to live and he outlived the prognosis by more than six years through research and determination. I would define this unequivocal confrontation of his disease as fifty percent technical solutions and fifty percent mental determination, the recipe that my father, whose eight year battle with colon cancer took his life, undertook to lead a strong and successful fight against cancer. Battling cancer requires patience, endurance, and fortitude, qualities that denote the strongest of the strong. Therefore, one can lead a successful battle and still not survive the disease. The fight against cancer is in itself a kind of success.

If I were diagnosed with cancer, I would learn to make fear my best friend, think outside the box, never take no for an answer, and always have a plan B. Most people would consider cancer to be one of the toughest battles they have ever faced. I feel like my first reaction to something as terrifying as a cancer diagnosis would be denial. After denial, I think my emotions would convert into fear. In order to confront what I would like to call this ‘major anxiety’, I would remind myself of the mindset of brave people such as O’Connor and my father, and relinquish control over the uncontrollable. To control fear is a close to impossible feat. Instead of allowing fear to run my life, to be the ‘judge and jury’ on how I react to news, to force me to play the negative ‘what-if’ game, I would ask fear to be my best friend. An obscure thought at first, but a necessary ‘tool’ for my metaphorical ‘tool box of life’ given to me by my father in order to relinquish control and take a chance. From there on I would ask fear to sit on my shoulder and look after me and warn me. I would want fear to act as a guiding force—but not one that taints whatever message the doctors are trying to impart. According to my father, this was a tremendous breakthrough and it enabled him to truly understand what the doctors were telling him and take the tests and look at the results without getting all knotted up inside. I would not let fear rule my life as my enemy because as my best friend, a mindset crucial to battling cancer, the process would be so much easier.

Cancer can be defined as what kryptonite is to Superman, the Achilles’ heel to all mortals. Being a young and ambitious college student in the prime of my life, I often find my mindset to be that I am invincible. Like my father, I would like to consider myself a Superhero. A diagnosis would feel like something had poked a hole in my Superwoman cape. However, since I was a small child I was always taught to think outside the box in order to solve a problem, another ‘tool’ that I have acquired throughout my years. To simply accept the cancer diagnosis would be thinking inside the box. I would think outside the box and come up with a plan of action. In order to formulate this solution, I would ask myself, what is my job as it relates to cancer? What are my short term and long term goals? How will I know if I am making progress? According to my father, something I am confident O’Connor discovered as well, the battle against cancer is not simply to follow the doctor’s orders and assume things will get better. The formula that I would use to fight against my cancer diagnosis would be to use 50% technical solutions and 50% mental determination and flexibility.

Some of the mental determination associated with the battle against cancer is to understand that you cannot simply take ‘no’ for an answer. This may be a hard notion to incorporate into daily life because most people were taught that stubbornness is a negative quality. If the doctor were to tell me that I only had three months to live, I would be stubborn and say no just like O’Connor because when it comes to cancer, my life is in my own hands. I would use the many technological resources that are so readily available in today’s society such as internet forums, online databases, magazines and books to research the other treatment options available on the market. I would find doctors who were willing to perform treatments that would normally not be practiced or try out new medical trials. If necessary I would change my diet to maintain a healthy lifestyle despite the cancer and to avoid any side effects from treatment. This will require me to be flexible at crucial times, trying new medications, treatments, therapies, supplements, and other things in order to see improvement.

Being flexible is a key strategy when learning that if what we are currently doing does not give us the results we want, it is time to execute a plan B. When cancer finds its way into one’s life, a person cannot let anything get in the way of the battle, not fear, not selfishness, not generosity and not doubt. The hard part is the fact that cancer is unpredictable and there is no definite way to determine a concrete step by step plan B to treat it. Therefore, if I had cancer I would make sure that through my research I would always be prepared for anything, a relapse, a growth, a disappearance, a stage advancement, etc. and be aware of my options. Like I said before, with cancer, you hold your own life in your hands, not the nurse, not the surgeon, not the radiologist, nor the oncologist, just you. While these figures may be a great source of information related to the fight against cancer, the decision lies in the patient’s hands. If I were faced with this challenge, I would remember to keep myself motivated in whatever way possible and in my heart of hearts remind myself that a fix will come along to help me deal with the obstacles, and all I have to do is be there, determined and ready to take advantage of it.

O’Connor’s determination and persistence inspires me to do everything to the best of my ability. The optimistic attitude he took with his unpredictable battle reminds me to be flexible. The bits of wisdom from others’ experiences with cancer are forever engraved in my mind and heart, along with the greatest gift anyone could give, the confidence and desire to achieve. Cancer is an ever-changing disease which has many surprise elements and practically anything can happen in almost an instant. This being said, I cannot indicate a step by step process that I would follow in the situation if I were diagnosed, I can only posit a strategy as to how I would incorporate cancer into my daily schedule and the mindset that I would maintain throughout the battle. Again, I think the four most important things to keep in mind in the case of a cancer prognosis would be to eliminate fear as an enemy, think outside the box, never take no for an answer, and always have another option in case the current one is not working. My father taught me to carry around the “tools of life” in my own personal toolbox to guide me in all my future undertakings. If I were diagnosed with cancer, my personal toolbox full of these strategies would help me with my fight against cancer.

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