Cancer….Is there anything about this disease that hasn’t already been said? Millions of works have been published educating us on the subject, how it evolves, forms of treatment, how the body reacts to these treatments, and the side effects they pose. These publications provide us with an enormous amount of information about the subject, educating us on the options available. It is our responsibility to use that information to proceed in the best way possible. Yet when diagnosed with cancer, most people will put their life into the hands of just one person, their oncologist.
While logic tells us that an oncologist would know best, do we practice this theology in other, less important areas of our life? If we build a home, do we pick a contractor at random saying, “Tell me what to do?” No, we check references, we discuss details, explain our concerns, and share our expectations. We spend countless hours ensuring that they have the ability to fulfill our needs. The same can be said with almost every other major decision we make.
So why then, when diagnosed with cancer, do we blindly follow another’s lead without question? Is it that the very diagnosis of cancer can stop us in our tracks, crippling us psychologically, robbing us of the control we may have over the decisions to be faced? Does it show weakness if we openly state doubts that we may have in the outcome?
Even at my young age, cancer is a subject that has become very personal to me. Just five months ago, I watched a family devastated as their son lost his year long fight with cancer at the age of 18. A young man who in many ways could have been me. We were the same age, had shared interests, and similar goals after high school. I followed his treatments and the failed results. This young man, his family, and his friends, put all their faith into an oncologist without question. Could the outcome have been different if they had pursued other options?
The battle that James “Rhio” O’Connor had with Mesothelioma also touched a personal note, as I recently shared the grief of a family member who lost his father to this same form of cancer. As with Mr. O’Connor, this man, who I will call “Steven”, had a history of asbestos exposure, the only known cause of Mesothelioma. This very aggressive form of cancer occurs in the thin layer of cells lining the body’s internal organs, striking 2,000 to 3,000 people annually. While there are documented cases of patients defeating Mesothelioma, by medical standards it is a cancer that can be managed, but not cured.
In Steven’s case, asbestos inhaled almost 50 years earlier worked through the lungs into the pleura (the membrane which lines the wall of the chest cavity). Acting like miniscule shreds of glass, these particles aggravated the pleura, causing the formation of cancer. After standard chemotherapy failed, Steven was told he had only months to live. Instead of accepting this diagnosis, he contacted experts from across the country in the treatment of Mesothelioma, choosing radical surgery to remove the pleura. Although the cancer had progressed beyond the point of remission, surgery did give him 3 additional years.
My grandfather experienced a similar result in his battle with cancer nearly 30 years ago. After 4 years of treatment, he was given 4 to 6 weeks to live. Not willing to accept this diagnosis, he contacted the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center of Texas. There he absorbed every bit of information they had to offer. He educated himself on the cancer itself, learned of diet alternatives, the important aspects of cancer treatment, and mistakes made when previous chemotherapy treatments were administered. He used this information to educate his own doctor, extending his life by more than 3 years.
With the resources we now have to research virtually any subject, particularly through the use of the internet, there is no justifiable reason to be uninformed to available options and make educated decisions. While radiation and chemotherapy have become the standard treatment, every factor in a person’s life must be questioned when initially diagnosed with cancer. Whether it be our diet, exercise regimen, or home and work environment, all play a factor in the treatment of this disease.
In addition to standard medical practices, we must be willing to consider alternative treatments. We cannot overlook that which others consider as quackery, since often some amount of truth lies behind any claims of success. This includes the use of dietary supplements. While others may view this as pill pushing, studies have shown that the proper combination of dietary supplements may improve the quality of life, sometimes even aiding in a cure.
Finally, when taking control of our own health, we often overlook the most obvious resource available to us, that being personal experience. Foundations, support groups, and websites can provide invaluable, first hand experience and advice. Once someone has fought cancer, whether personally or with a loved one, they are generally willing to share the knowledge they have gained, creating empowerment over the disease itself, if not for themselves, for someone else.
Instead of going home to die, my grandfather, Steven, and Mr. O’Connor chose to take their health into their own hands. They proved that where there is life, there is hope. Although they did not beat their cancer, their actions allowed them to outlive their diagnosis by many years.
The events that James “Rhio” O’Connor shares, through his book and through websites, are a fantastic source of personal experience we can all benefit from. We should not wait for cancer to strike before we take action. Educating ourselves now is the first step to preparing ourselves for what may come. I strongly recommend that others read of his story, as a source of inspiration and encouragement if ever diagnosed with cancer.
Another excellent resource of information for those diagnosed with Mesothelioma can be found at www.survivingmesothelioma.com. Here, you will find details of Mesothelioma, treatments options, medical facilities, references, and more. More importantly, you can read patient testimonials, which gives hope to those facing this disease.
The actions of James “Rhio” O’Connor must be used as an example of how to proceed when diagnosed with cancer. His determination to take control of this disease extended his life by more than 6 years. This means in no way that we should not listen to our oncologist, but instead use information provided to individualize the best treatment possible.With the inspiration that people like James “Rhio” O’Connor, Steven, and my grandfather have offered, I believe that the treatment of cancer must be assumed not by the doctor, but by the patient. From the initial diagnosis, we must take responsibility for our own care. It is our responsibility, more than any others, to research every alternative, explore all treatments, and question the options given. In addition to this, I believe we must have the mentality that if a doctor is not aggressive, willing to answer any questions, and consider all alternatives, a new doctor must be found.
Although I am young, I feel I have gained enough personal knowledge to know the course of action I would take if diagnosed with cancer. I would use every resource available to research my options. While I would strongly consider surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments, I would not do so blindly. I would first get a second or third opinion by contacting the best experts in the field, those who work not in cancer departments, but in cancer institutes which specialize in the treatment of cancer. Finally, I would make the most educated decision possible, taking control over my health and the decisions that need to be made.
While ultimately the decision of treatment is up to the patient themselves, the fact is that only one road can be traveled. Whether it be chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, which physically changes your body forever, or something as simple as a change in your diet, the fact remains that once a course of action has occurred, it cannot be taken back. We must then live with the consequences it brings, whether good or bad. For that reason, we cannot allow cancer to control us, but instead, we must use every possible option to defeat it.
Although cancer can be emotionally crippling, this can only happen if we allow it to do so. I will not become a victim to cancer, or any other disease. Instead, I would choose to wage a good war, attacking it with every resource available. While this does not guarantee that I will win, like James “Rhio” O’Connor I will bravely fight it with all that I have.