National Women’s Health Week (May 12-18th 2013): “They Said Months, I Chose Years”

May 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

In light of National Women’s Health Week (May 12-18th 2013), I was inspired to share my account of a battle for good health and wealth of life.

“You have malignant melanoma”. The oncologist told my father that he would only have months to live. My father struggled through chemotherapy, one of the only options the doctors gave us. At the time, we thought that this was our only hope, our only option. We put all of our faith in what the professionals told us, and did not seek any unconventional aid. My grandmother and I watched as my father withered away in hospice. Soon, it would be just my grandmother and I. James “Rhio” O’Connor was faced with a similar faith. Diagnosed with the fatal cancer malignant mesothelioma (, he was given a mere year to live. Mesothelioma is most commonly and indisputably caused by exposure to asbestos, in which cancerous cells arise in the mesothelium, the protective lining that covers many internal organs.  The most common symptoms of mesothelioma are chest pain and difficulty breathing. Diagnosing mesothelioma is often difficult since symptoms are similar to other conditions.  There is currently no FDA approved immunohistochemistry assay, and no universal protocol for screening people who have been exposed to asbestos (often leading to misdiagnosis).  Prognosis remains disappointing. Treatments include: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, heated intraoperative intraperitoneal chemotherapy, multimodality therapy, and alternative medicine. However, surgery was not an option for Rhio due to the position of the tumor located near his spine. The damage chemotherapy would do to his body drastically outweighed the improvement in his lifespan.

Rhio survived a bewildering seven and a half years longer than expected by thinking out of the box and not accepting the status quo for treatments. “Take a cruise with your wife, and start hospice care upon your return”. This was the faith that professionals had determined for him. He was only given months, but he CHOSE years. Although it was hard for him to breath, he took one hopeful, deep breath and charged into the battle against his cancer. Through extensive research, spending hours in the library and seeking copious medical advice, he was able to create his one personal therapeutic protocol. There are so many diverse treatments…how can one professional say that one exact treatment will be the right one, or even the only one, for you? Rhio believed that therapies should be personalized, based on the needs and reactions of the individual. His ability to exercise informed consent was revolutionary, and his optimistic spirit should be an inspiration to all who suffer or are affected by “terminal” illnesses. The insurmountable will that Rhio possessed should be a beacon to others to think outside of the box; do not accept the plans that others have in store for you. Rather, educate yourself and mold your own. “Even here, in a place I never imagine I would be, I am determined to survive.” Possess the will to live.

Individuals read of James Rhio O’Connor’s story across the world and are inspired to share their own survivor stories, to make a difference for those they care about, and to encourage others to think outside of the box and take their lives into their own hands. In response to the never-ending question of how he was able to manage his “Mr. Meso” as he called it, he wrote an inspirational book entitled “”They Said Months, I Chose Years: A Mesothelioma Survivor’s Story”. Nearly a hundred medical articles are cited to help Rhio support the concept that nutrition can help manage a chronic disease, and why we should seek outside of the conventional medicinal box. Be a soldier in the war against cancer.

I was recently diagnosed with pre-cancerous cervical cells. Having read Rhio’s rousing account of his battle, I thoroughly researched the various options I had in trampling this before it developed into cervical cancer. I have had two Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedures (LEEP) performed. While I know that my risk of complications with giving birth rises with every procedure, I know that if I do not take action now than I am choosing to let cancer decide my faith. Rhio convinced me to improve my diet, and with every new day I am feeling even fresher…more alive. Had I not been inspired to take control of my own future, I might have succumbed to the notion that I had only one option, or frankly no options. I remain hopeful and knowledgeable about my condition and feel fully capable of going into battle.  I am a soldier.

My father would not see me graduate from high school, go to college, be able to walk me down the aisle, or see me commission into the U.S. Air Force.  If I would have thought out of the box as Rhio had, would my father be able to see me graduate from the Georgia Institute of Technology?  Would he still be alive?

-Brandi Strickland

james rhiowomens health weel


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