Receiving a diagnosis that you have cancer is not pleasant news. No one wants to hear that they have been diagnosed with a disease that so little is known about and few treatments are available for. Lifestyles and choices about personal health can often be causes of cancer, yet there are a large portion of cancer patients whose illnesses have nothing to do with their lifestyle and behavior. Rhio O’Conner, unfortunately, was one of those patients. O’Conner was diagnosed with "mesothelioma", a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. With this type of cancer cancerous cells develop, infect, and attack the mesothelium, which is a lining that covers the internal body organs. Mesothelioma is a diagnosis with a very poor prognosis and it does not respond well to any forms of cancer treatment.
While Rhio had no choice in this illness, he did have a choice in what he would do with the diagnosis. Would he choose to be angry or accept that his life was soon to be over? Would he pursue treatments or let the incurable disease take its toll? Would he believe the statement that his disease was incurable? These initial questions and decisions were realities O’Conner had to face. The way he choose to act, how he decided to spend his final days, and when exactly they would come would be crucial in how O’Conner faced his illness.
I am inspired by Rhio’s story for several reasons. First, his pursuit of life illustrated not only his perseverance but also his courage. When facing such devastating news I would be inclined to pout, asking “why me?” and focus incessantly on the life I was never going to have. Yet Rhio choose to invest his time seeking options, opening doors, and pursuing treatment despite all odds. Rhio’s commitment to studying and learning also astounds me. It is rare that we take time to fully educate ourselves and realize that education can lead to opportunities. Yet Rhio took action on this to the fullest extent, even when suffering with an illness. I have rarely thought about what I would do if diagnosed with an incurable disease before writing this essay. But, by learning about Rhio’s story, I recognize that it is very important to have a foundational positive attitude no matter what circumstances you face.
My understanding of the responsibility I have in learning about my own treatment options would be a driving force in pursuing my treatment plan, and would push me to be proactive to do everything in my capability to find the most effective option for me. In the medical field there is big temptation to defer the opportunity and power patients have to their healthcare providers. For they’ve been to medical school, for this, right? Relinquishing the ability patients have to become knowledgeable about their illness not only defers personal authority in healthcare, but also can often be a major disadvantage towards recovery and finding a successful treatment plan. A doctor offers a treatment plan that is based upon his best assessment of the disease, its prognosis, and what he has learned as the best way to treat that illness. But, it is vital to remember that doctors are just people who have received a medical degree, and can make mistakes.
Understanding that there are other options would be the first way I would approach my healthcare treatment when facing a dire cancer prognosis. Instead of assuming that a prognosis of death in a year was the final conclusion about my current health condition, I would take responsibility on my own to seek out other treatment options, to understand more about the illness, and to use this knowledge to become an expert in the disease that is threatening my life.
While being proactive to seek other healthcare solutions when the first prognosis offered nothing promising, I would also make specific alterations to my personal attitude to ensure the best possible situation for survival. After making alterations to my own attitude towards medicine, I would begin the process of becoming an expert on my disease. The library would be the first way I would become informed on my illness. I would consult dictionaries, medical terminology books, online blogs and journals, as well as medical research journals and publishing. Part of this process would be collecting a database of my research, carefully documenting what I learned and where I was getting my information.
I would use the Internet as a resource for connecting with other mesotheliomia patients. By searching blogs and online support groups, I would communicate with other patients about their experiences with the disease, the treatment they had chosen, and why they had made their choice. Learning of their experiences would also expand the knowledge I had about treatment possibilities, and expand the opportunities I had for treatment.
Rhio O’Connor’s story in and of itself provides good evidence that there is much to be said for getting second opinions, choosing to learn as much as can be learned on your own, and making the best effort to expose yourself as a patient to every possible mechanism for treatment. Not only did he invest time researching, he was also willing to try out alternative medicine as an effective treatment source. By using nutritional supplements, he outlived his prognosis by six years. There is much to be said for choosing to access all options for cancer treatment and to be the pioneer of new methods that have yet to be tried. By choosing as a patient to take responsibility for your own treatment, you are forming a partnership with doctors and clinicians for survival.
I would also choose to see several specialists at various medical institutions nationwide. After researching their exposure to treating my disease and what experience they had in different treatments, I would make appointments to receive a wide array of opinions on the state of my condition. Accepting that it is my responsibility to be as informed as possible about my illness would not only give me strength to pursue as many options as possible, but it would give me hope that there is always something that can be done in treatment. The choices being made today would give me a sense that in the face of detrimental news, there are still choices that can alter my future. It would be difficult to determine when I had exhausted my options for treatment, but by becoming informed and doing independent research on my illness, I would have the tools to access treatment options. In order to understand every possible opportunity the medical field had to offer me, I would look beyond radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. I would pursue treatments in acupuncture, reflexology, yoga, TENS therapy (transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation), chiropractic care, and nutritional medicinal supplements. Any of these treatment options would be resources I would use to increase my ability to maintain normal functionality as I pursued survival.
Because a person is made up of mind, body, and soul, my treatment would include care for all three areas. If I was out of options for medical treatments, I would still pursue the care of my mind and soul. Engaging myself in reading, enjoying activities to the best of my ability, and pursuing relationships with my spouse, family and friends are all ways to treat the other areas of my person as if they were still invaluable parts of the recovery process. This maintence would help me to make the most of my days, no matter how limited they were. My goal would be to keep all doors open, as I responsibly participated in the treatment of my cancer.
The power of Rhio’s story does not lie in his defeat of a cancer, or survival of an evil disease. No, the power of Rhio’s story was that in his refusal to accept defeat he became a model figure that outlived by more then six years his initial cancer diagnosis. Sometimes victory doesn’t mean survival. Sometimes victory is doing everything capable to make change, to do everything in your hands to give yourself a chance to overcome. This attitude, to remain teachable, responsible, and to take ownership over your illness was the very heart and character of Rhio O’Conner. His story inspires me to do the same, to never take no for an answer, and it reminds me that the choices I am making today are the same ones that are in fact shaping my future.