Advanced Glioblastoma Age 43. Osteosarcoma Age 12. Lymphoma Age 27.
They always looked so harmless: amorphous blobs of dark, delicate tissue, sitting forlornly within a thick polystyrene test tube bathing in the virtue of scientific starkness. As a project intern, I was trained in the art of dispassionate objectivity: the deadly tumors are merely samples necessary for genetic and experimental analyses. The tumors are simply a clump of cells with complex evasive ruses and protective stratagems, all cleverly encoded within particular genes. And thus in the thick swirl of monotony and empiricism that characterizes much of the research community, the detached neutrality often pervades the mentality of even the most humanistic scientist or health practitioner. And perhaps rightly so. As a researcher, I feared meeting young osteosarcoma patients getting multiple limbs amputated to stop the invasive spread of cancer in their bones. Or working with tissue samples from a father of three with advanced glioblastoma who, in all likelihood, will not live to see the next year. So out of fear, passion, or simplicity, we are taught that science, that widespread empirical proofs alone, cure people.
But behind the dense knowledge of statistical probabilities, standard treatment options, and likely outcomes, health practitioners and even scientists seemingly hold a profound naiveté about the will of human spirit and perseverance. When thrust precariously onto the edge of the cliff, the desperation and determination to survive produces extraordinary, unforeseen results. Science alone cannot explain how Rhio’s intense intellectual efforts and profound optimism helped him outlive cancer by more than six years.
As an observer and scientific researcher, I occasionally underestimate the efforts of those diagnosed with rare or advanced forms of aggressive cancers. Attempting to wholly grasp the emotional trauma of cancer, much less a highly malignant form of cancer, is a feat very few can accomplish without being physically or emotionally knowledgeable about the situation. Still, one can admire the immense courage, continuous optimism and faith, and sincere practicality needed to combat cancer from every possible approach. Their inspirational stories offer robust guidelines for newly-diagnosed cancer patients in similar situations.
If diagnosed with a highly aggressive and rare form of cancer, my initial reaction would be complete shock followed by utter despair. When my mother was diagnosed with what doctors believed to be ovarian cancer, every second that followed was engulfed by a hole of infinite, resounding hopelessness. Even as a cancer researcher, logic and experience blanches at the thought of cancer being so personally applicable. Still, at some point, despair, denial, and defense mechanisms block one’s abilities to fully cope with the disease and consume precious time that could otherwise be devoted to education and treatment.
By accepting the existence of the cancer, I would immediately embark on a comprehensive understanding of my cancer though intensive research and education. Knowledge provides the confidence needed to establish a thick and robust emotional foundation needed to tackle the physical and emotional battle against cancer. By thoroughly understanding the deep and intricate details of mesothelioma, Rhio created his own therapeutic regime specifically catered to his physical and spiritual needs. Each cancer patient is finely attuned to his or her body, and seeking a wholesome, personalized treatment will maximize its effectiveness and success. Knowledge is more than simply power; knowledge is life. As John Diamond once remarked, “Cancer is a word, not a sentence.”
As far as treatments are concerned, the routine medley of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation provides a comprehensive, but broad standard for treatment. Obtaining referrals and finding specialists familiar with a specific cancer often reveals unconventional treatment opportunities. Researchers in midst of conducting clinical trials have proven to be exceptionally effective options in dire cases simply because the procedures are quite novel in concept. Even then, standard or alternative medicinal treatments fight only for the body. Having a positive mentality, maintaining high physical activity, and preserving a potent sense of profound faith and passion heals the soul and body in ways the man will never truly understand.
I have studied cancer. I quantify it. I measure it. I attempt to cure it. But I have never lived it, and one simply cannot imagine a nature of that sort through vicarious experience. But there exists an inspirational and educational element in any cancer tale that transcends the necessity of experience and into the realm of human passion, bravery, and soul. Regardless of exposure or familiarity, anyone with compassion can admire Rhio’s remarkable account: a story of an ordinary man who through sheer courage, perseverance, and optimism, became extraordinary.