Young, Ashley | Surviving Mesothelioma

Young, Ashley

The average citizen holds great faith in modern science to determine the outcome of devastating ailments such as cancer, even if the practice has failed to provide a reliable cure. Science can only provide a prolonged lifespan through the application of several treatments, the most common being chemotherapy. I feel however, unless personally affected by cancer, many are desensitized to the horrendous effects that this disease renders on both individuals suffering from it and their friends and families. Those that are affected with the disease, realize it is more than just a hair-loosing experience, more than just a bed-ridden sentence. It is a mental fight and requires more passion for life than any average individual is accustomed to. James “Rhio” O’Conner’s story is remarkable as he is the example of what it means to fight this most common disease. If five months ago I was asked the question of what actions I would take if faced with the same challenge that O’Conner was dealt, I would have probably automatically responded that I am not likely to have cancer and therefore have no need to meditate on such matters. I too like the average American, was detached from this disease, despite its popularity in the media, and in science. However, after witnessing my mother’s diagnosis, treatment, and quick battle with the disease, I know now how swift, how furious, and how aggressive cancer can be. There is no cure for cancer and that makes it a very dangerous disease. Despite the several successful and powerful treatments available, and the many characteristics of cancer such as its ambiguity and ability to end one’s life, I believe it is the individual’s responsibility to take this disease head-on in order to conquer it. I believe there are two important elements to take into account when fighting cancer and those are their dependents, family and friends, and their health. These two factors must be guarded and fought for when faced with the onset of cancer as cancer has only two outcomes, life and death.

My mother was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia back in September of 2009. She was admitted to hospital and shortly thereafter, one month to be exact, passed away due to effects the cancer had on her platelets. Only after her death did the family and I realize that she had put off necessary medical attention in order to attend to the affairs of her children. This greatly upset many of the family members, including myself, however in hindsight I now understand that her fight for cancer was for her children and not herself. Her doctors had little to no idea how long she had to live, and frankly, my mother had little regard with the matter. Her priorities were finalizing her legal and family matters before her passing. It was absolutely amazing to watch her in the midst of chemotherapy sitting up; filling out insurance papers and checking my youngest brother’s homework. Doctors’ orders were to stay in bed, no moving, especially not sitting straight up for taking care of paperwork. She had a very healthy attitude about the whole matter, and by that I mean she was positive about the outcome, but very straightforward with us siblings about what could happen and what she expected out of us if the cancer won. From her, I learned that I would want to be able to help those that depend on me, assist them to prepare themselves for the independence that they would face. To many teenagers, independence is the ultimate dream, but to a young adult having to mature faster than their peers, it is absolutely terrifying. My mother realized this and expressed that we keep our heads on straight and remain goal-oriented no matter what challenges were brought to us. I would do the same in her case, but further transcended, I would do that for others suffering with cancer also. It does the individual very little to focus inward, as exemplified by my mother. That is why there are support groups for cancer and communities that sponsor events and scholarships such as this one. I believe a strong motivation of O’Connor’s survival was not only for his own health, but to assist others afflicted with cancer. O’Connor’s ability to channel the mental effects from his cancer into a positive force of survival brought him and others extended health. With the wisdom of both my mother and O’Connor, I know that I could create a wealth of strength and support for those with cancer and for my family and friends. Some may argue that it is one’s family and friend’s responsibility to care entirely for the cancer patient, but one must realize that his or her closest peers will only be as strong as she or he is. If you worry, they will worry. If you fight, they will fight. Apart from the mental fight, there still exists the excruciating physical battle that one must face with cancer, and the trial and error of dealing with his or her health. Once again, there exists another individual that I would model myself after in the fight against cancer, and that is a young eight-year old girl.

Right after my mother’s death, I began working at a marketing company where I met a lady and her daughter. Upon meeting them, I knew instantly that the young girl had cancer; the shaved head, the weakness, the brittle bones. It was very unnerving at first to be faced once again with this disease; ironically, the young girl also had leukemia. I had the choice to either view meeting the girl as an omen or as a form of therapy. I chose the latter and am glad I did so as I got to know both the young girl and her mother very well. The inspiring segment of their story was the fact that they were faced with similar circumstances as O’Connor; the doctors’ “realistic” view on the outcome, the failed attempt of chemotherapy, and several other obstacles, many dealing with modern science. Together, the duo, like O’Connor, took the doctors’ predictions as a challenge, and has since proved them wrong. The girl’s mother took it upon herself to develop a routine including a highly-selective meal plan, regiment of exercise, and several concoctions of remedies. For me, it was very uplifting to see the other outcome of cancer that my mother did not, life. Survival with cancer is absolutely positive and does require a great of deal of personal involvement and motivation. If faced with cancer, I would seek the traditional chemotherapy treatment, but would not restrict myself to this biological therapy. Cancer, as of yet, has no cure, and therefore the treatments are infinite. There is no one and nothing that could possibly inhibit me or prove me wrong in my attempt to discover my own personal cure. Perhaps the cure for cancer differs from individual to individual, as it is a very radical disease and often chooses several forms and manners to instill itself. If this theory is the case, then it would only make sense to experiment with several treatments whether accepted or dismissed by modern science. It was my experience and friendship with both the young girl and her mother that taught me this idea. They have created their own website listing all of the trial and error treatments they have experimented with so that others with similar circumstances and can learn from their experience. Actions like theirs and O’Connor’s are what I would expect from myself if faced with the disease. The only limit in finding a cure is the one that he or she has chosen to place on themselves and that is exemplified through every survivor of cancer.

With my mother’s death, the question of how I would handle cancer is no longer something distant, but a matter that is very relevant to my future. I do not know if her cancer is hereditary or caused by external factors. Either way, cancer is something that I can imagine more vividly than I could a year ago or even six months ago. It is something that I must know how to deal with whether it afflicts me or a close friend or family. Without a cure, cancer continues to afflict more and more individuals. Cancer baffles modern science, religion, and holistic practices, but that does not imply it has the power to wreak havoc on whatever it touches. Cancer can be fought and won with the strength of one’s will power and available resources, both being limitless. And yes, a law of averages will allow cancer to claim some of its victims, but this fact is not meant to deter any one, especially myself, from fighting the disease. With the memory of my mother and O’Connor, and the survival of my young friend and others, I know cancer can be a positive experience that can teach and bring passion to living.

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