Finding Another Path: Joining Others on the Roads Less Traveled
“Why do you walk like that?” asked the neurologist. “That’s what I’m asking you, Doctor.” I replied. He continued with his examination by scraping the bottom of my foot with a pin, asking me to press my feet against his resisting hand, and all the other, usual features of the neurological exam. “I think that you are under a lot of stress,” the doctor concluded. “You would be, too, if your legs felt as weird as mine,” I replied. I soon learned that “stress” was code-speak for “We don’t know.” He offered me some medication for the fatigue, another medication for bladder control, and suggested we schedule another MRI.
In 2002, after 9 months of neurologists, MRIs, examinations and relapses, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I was presented with options for slowing the progression of the disease, and drugs for management of symptoms. I was told that these things could make the disease easier to live with and could possibly delay the inevitable disability. The message was not one of hope, and “No, there isn’t any known cure at this time.” One year later, I was injecting myself with prescribed chemicals on a daily basis. I was swallowing pill after pill to treat mounting symptoms. I was 40 pounds overweight, pale, exhausted and sick. I could no longer discern my disease’s symptoms from the side effects of the drugs. The disease was disabling me, but the treatments were killing me.
It is a spiritual paradox that our greatest blessings come at our most desperately miserable moments. As my body and my worldly aspirations fell apart, I began to seek solid, spiritual ground. The Truth that lives inside me believed that there was another path, a better path, and encouraged me to seek guidance with a completely open mind. My spiritual mentor was a cancer survivor. Having rejected conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, she sought out her own course of treatment with researchers on the cutting edge of nutrition, supplementation and holistic wellness. She claimed that her cancer had brought her great spiritual gifts and that her cancer had become her friend. One of its greatest gifts, she claimed, was that her path through it had given her a way to be useful and helpful to those who suffer with disease. She could show me a new way to live with disease if I was willing to open my mind and my heart; I was no longer alone.
In my suffering and misery, she reached out to me. She guided me off of the well-paved but fruitless path I was on. With her guidance, I learned how to seek better answers than the ones being offered by conventional medicine. I followed the examples of people who were living in peace and wellness with multiple sclerosis. On this unconventional path, I found great hope in nutrition, Functional Medicine, yoga and being of service to others. I learned how to listen to my body, and I learned to love my disease. Like my friend, and those who walked the alternate paths of chronic diseases before us, I have found hope. I no longer need the wheelchair, and I am not exhausted by the activities of daily living. I may be physically impaired at times, but I am not sick. I do not suffer from multiple sclerosis; I live in peace and wellness with it.
Four years later, two years after the birth of her son, my spiritual advisor died of cancer. She believed that she had been called to blaze a trail through uncharted territory, and was at peace with the realization that she would not get to the cure at that trail’s end. Someone else, and many others behind them, would get there, because she had begun the journey.
Rhio O’Connor’s story, as told at Surviving Mesothelioma, demonstrates for others who suffer how one can walk the path he chose, the same path as my dear friend and spiritual advisor. It took an extraordinary act of courage to leave the wide and mediocre path of mainstream medicine. It is a testament to his character that he realized that the trail he blazed was not only his path, but also the path of hope and peace for many who will walk behind him.
Yesterday, I stood outside Chemistry Hall to talk with my friend, David. David was diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. Through his tears, David shared his frustration with how limited his options seemed. He felt in his heart that there must be something more than just surgery and radiation. Desperately hoping to find a new path, he intuitively knew that the journey ahead would be about mind, body and spirit, and yet he felt lost and alone. I shared my story of living with multiple sclerosis. I shared my friend’s story with him. I told him about Rhio O’Connor and his book, “They Said Months, I Chose Years: A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story.” David’s journey is just beginning, and although I feel sad that David has cancer, I feel hopeful for him. David’s heart is open to the truth that my friend taught me, the truth that Rhio O’Connor’s life exemplifies: Life’s greatest gifts, to ourselves and to others, come in the most unusual packages, and we find our truest selves and the truest brotherhood while we’re finding a new path down the roads less traveled.