I get a lot of strange offers for this blog, like a law firm representing mesothelioma cases wishing to place an ad or would-be writers offering to send me a guest post in the form of some list (a popular web format) posing as an article. Most of these are not compatible with the mission of this site.
But I received a submission the other day from a high school senior involved in a competition for college scholarships. While not a survivor herself, Jessica has had some first-hand knowledge of the cancer experience – with her mother and with family acquaintance. So she writes from the perspective of a young person, 18 years old, looking in from the outside. She posits a wholistic treatment approach that would be hard for any of us to argue against.
I hope that some of us in this survivors community can initiate a dialogue inspired by her essay “Never Give Up, Never Surrender”. I hope that we can share some of our own experiences, share what worked well and not so well in our own approaches to wholeness. How far did we go or dare to go in coming to terms with our disease…, regardless of how we chose to measure our success.
As a young person, it is hard to imagine being presented with the life-changing words, “you have cancer.” But every day, thousands of people of all ages are faced with that very scenario. How they face it can mean the difference between a life of sorrow and a life rich with possibility. A remarkable man named Rhio O’Connor was one person who made the decision to beat the odds and face his diagnosis of incurable cancer with a will to live. He chose to go beyond the norms and be his own advocate. He led the team providing his care in finding the best course of treatment, at times needing to go beyond traditional treatment options.
If I were given a similar diagnosis with only a short time to live as happened to Mr. O’Connor, I think a number of choices would still be available to me. The most important decision would be whether to face this challenge with fear and a sense of doom, or an optimistic and positive spirit. After conquering the fear and making a decision to remain positive, I believe it would be in my best interest to share my diagnosis with family and friends. Then, I would need to explore all the available treatment options, both traditional and non-traditional, using every resource at my disposal to see which combination of treatments best fit my situation. My search might even take me outside the US, as our traditional western medicine options often do not include some hopeful treatments. And finally, once I have made my choices, I would need to let my strong faith take over; to rest in the comfort of knowing that everything would work out for the best.
In most life situations, facing crises with optimism brings about a sense of power and a feeling of calm. The calmness not only helps those dealing directly with the health challenge, but also extends to those around them. I observed this first-hand in the last year when my mother was presented with a diagnosis of cancer of the appendix, which had spread throughout her abdomen. She chose to remain positive and asked those around her to do the same. This helped all of us to focus on seeing her through to the other side of her treatment. When my mom was going through her first of two surgeries, she asked us all to color pictures for her; they were called “mandalas” and they were designed with the intention to focus the artist’s energy on healing and peace. The more relaxed and optimistic she felt, the better we all felt about her future. Her mantra was always, “All is well.” She still closes all of her emails with the quote by some anonymous author, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratitude that makes us happy.”
As social creatures, we are connected to each other in many ways. Families, of course, have a biological link; friends have an emotional one. There is also a special bond between people in like circumstances, especially frightening circumstances. Therefore, if I were going through a health crisis like the one faced by Mr. O’Connor, I would make sure I had a strong circle of support for two reasons: tough times are made easier when others share them; and we never know who might be able to offer that one critical piece of information that might provide just the right health benefit to fit the challenge being faced. We are fortunate today to be living in an era where it is easy to connect with others facing similar challenges; the internet can provide information about support groups, and there are countless on-line websites joining together just such people. Many of them have something worthwhile to offer.
In addition to support groups, the internet can provide a wealth of health information from all over the world. There we have access to traditional eastern methods of healing as well as our own current western practices. Local and distant hospitals offer educational materials at the click of a mouse; these should not be overlooked. Organizations like the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, of course, have much to offer as well, and can provide many services to patients and their families. In looking for treatment options, I would not be hesitant to explore treatments available outside the U.S., especially those offered just outside our borders. I have learned through close family friends going through just such a crisis, that while our FDA might not approve a treatment because it is not actually a medication, there has been hopeful and successful care provided by American doctors just across the border in Mexico. These treatments are often provided in conjunction with traditional American care such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. If treatment options are equal in a nearby place and faraway place, I would probably choose to have treatments close to home, so that I could recover in the company of family and friends. I would explore all alternative therapies, including Homeopathic treatments, massage therapy and Reiki, meditation, Naturopathic care, etc.
Knowing how important diet and exercise are in the prevention of cancer, I would do everything in my power to improve the quality of my life by improving the quality of my diet, and increasing the level of exercise. Fresh fruits and vegetables seem to provide the greatest protection, as well as whole grains and beans. These would be the main source of nutrition for me; however, I would explore supplements with professionals specializing in Naturopathic Medicine as well. I would work with my physician to determine the optimal levels of activity and focus on increasing energy. As much as possible, I would get outside and get fresh air and sunshine, walking whenever and wherever I could.
After working with my physician to put together an optimal plan for my specific condition, I would really focus on my faith and relax in the knowing that everything will work out for the best. Once I have settled into that faith, I have an opportunity to reach out to others in whatever way I can. I might not be able to do everything I could once do, but I will always do what I can do. Reaching out to others helps them in their hour of need, but it also gives me a feeling of self-worth, and a sense of hope. As American author and speaker Kevin Eikenberry puts it, “This is how hope works; it looks for the good in people and situations, rather than finding the worst; it discovers what can be done instead of throwing up its hands at what can’t; it considers problems large and small as opportunities to move forward when it would be easier to quit; it makes us human, helping us find the very best in ourselves for those around us and the situations we face.”
Hope is the spirit in which Mr. Rio O’Connor lived his life; it is also the spirit in which I would face any challenge which might lie ahead.
~ Jessica Morich