Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Sunday, February 14, 2010
The story of James “Rhio” O’Connor is an inspiring one, to say in the least. When diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a cancer that infects the protective lining of many of the body’s internal organs, he did not degrade physically and emotionally as expected. Instead, James practiced his battle cry and put it to use by changing his diet, implementing mind-body medicine, and committing himself to the research of his own disease. He prolonged his death by understanding his enemy and devoting himself to fighting it with every breath. The strength we saw in James was remarkable, and it beckons us to ask ourselves what we would do if faced with the same life or death challenges. It’s hard to determine my own actions after hearing a dire prognosis, and I can only offer what I hope I would do. The following is an outline of the steps I would hope to have the strength to take.
First, I would take a trip. This is what Jame’s doctor suggested he do first, but I’d take a different approach than what was intended by the doctor. In his case, it was for spending time with his wife before entering hospice care. For me, the goal would be to clear my head and start fresh on the battle I would be facing. At home, I know I would be overwhelmed not only with the responses to my diagnosis of my family and friends, but also the temptation to keep going with life’s responsibilities. Taking a trip would take me out of that context to focus whole-heartedly on what kind of battle I would want to face and to be reenergized and empowered to face cancer head-on.
In these times, and after finishing this perspective-clearing essay even, relationships would be the most important to me. I would spend ridiculous amounts of time with my friends and family, not to prepare for death but to enrich my life. I know that alone I would fall prey to discouragement and depression. The support system I have in the people I love would be essential to my strength. Simply spending time with them would build my morale and prove to strengthen our relationships, which is a worthy ambition. I don’t think anyone on their death bed had wished they would’ve spent more time at work or going to school. When it comes down to it, people care about family. I hope a brush with death like this (but not a submission to it) would set my heart on the people I love.
This is based on what I’m learning lately - that no matter how bad or hard life can get, if you have good people in your life whom you care for deeply and who deeply care for you, life is rich. I feel that if my life weren’t turning out as I had hoped, but I had deep relationships with family and friends, I would still be content. Essentially, people are what matter. So upon a chronic diagnosis, I would fill my life more and more with people.
I think what I would do treatment-wise is research doctors. I’m a zoology major, so I know a thing or two about how the body works, but I know I would have little interest in committing most of myself to research. I give all due respect to James and his pursuits, and I wish I had research ambitions like he did. Knowing my own personality, I am aware of my own potential to obsess over something. If I were to begin research beyond a healthy level, I would simply go overboard. I would instead find a gusty, risk-taking, innovative doctor. I would want to stay alive as long as possible, just as James did, and I feel that requires a doctor who’s willing to take the risks that others aren’t.
I’m a Grey’s Anatomy fan, and this last point reminds me of a case Dr. Derek Shepherd had in one of the recent episodes. He had a patient who came in with a tumor surrounding his spinal cord, an equation that automatically equals inoperable. But this patient had been researching Dr. Shepherd for quite some time and decided that Dr. Shepherd’s heart and his talent in surgery would give the best chances for success in operating. This patient asked Dr. Shepherd to operate on an inoperable tumor. After much thought, Dr. Shepherd agreed to be as brave as his patient. It turned out well in the end - the patient lived spinal tumor-free. I understand that this is a hollywood-influenced dramatization of a very unlikely result. But I would not want to put figures and percentages on the risks I’m taking and instead decide what kind of life I would still want to lead - a life with as little cancer in my body as possible, a life as normal as possible, a life of mobility and ability.
This essay’s a difficult one to write. We pity those who have cancer, who have to face death all too frequently. But at the same time, we remove ourselves from their picture. We’re happy that the same thing isn’t happening to us and we refuse to begin thinking about the what-ifs. When forced with the task of contemplating what you would do, it becomes more real, more of a possibility. God forbid, if I am ever faced with a situation like James O’Connor, my hope is that I would hold true to the brave ideals of rejecting your prognosis and deciding that you want something better. My hope is that I would find perspective and that the people in my life would rightfully become my primary passion and my empowerment. My hope is that I would fight harder and harder every successive day, and that I would be brave enough to take the risks I feel necessary.
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