Making the Most of a 525,600 Minute Diagnosis: Guest Blogger Michaela Sasse

Making the Most of a 525,600 Minute Diagnosis

“525,600 minutes. 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year?” These lyrics from the song “Seasons of Love” became well-known from the Broadway production RENT, but when one is faced with the devastating prognosis of having less than a year to live, the famous words begin to become all too familiar for not only the individual affected, but the loved ones that surround him. In October 2001, James “Rhio” O’Connor received the aforementioned prognosis due to his diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by his exposure to asbestos when he was younger.

Rhio received his diagnosis during the time of year when the Northern Hemisphere begins to shut its eyes and drift into a slumber, only to be reawakened after the fall and winter months flourish into springtime. Rhio’s form of mesothelioma was incredibly rare and severe – a tumor had formed near his spine, making surgery next to impossible, and it was suspected that chemotherapy would neither increase his longevity nor improve his quality of life. The medical professionals surrounding Rhio, including his oncologist and personal doctor, began to question if Rhio would see those budding flowers again. His oncologist suggested that he get his affairs in order, and another doctor recommended that he take his wife on a cruise. However, Rhio did not succumb to the lethargic nature of the upcoming seasons. Over the course of the next 7 ½ years of his life, he altered his diet and mentality in such a way that he was not limited by his prognosis, but lived in the seasons of love through his “determination, knowledge, inexorable spirit, belief in something greater than himself, and the ability to make tough choices.” This information and more about Rhio’s life may be found on the website Surviving Mesothelioma on the webpage entitled “James Rhio O’Connor and his Mesothelioma Story.”

If I were given a dire cancer prognosis, such as the prognosis that Rhio received, I would proceed in much the same way that he did. Firstly, after I received the prognosis I would address my family and friends; however, I would not tell them the duration of the prognosis. Instead I would make it known that the best way to enhance my quality of life is to have an optimistic attitude pertaining to my prognosis, and I would also strive to conduct myself similarly. Of course there will be times of grief, but one cannot yield to those feelings extensively. The best way to overcome strife, speaking from personal experience, is to seek resolution from a higher power much like Rhio did. It is only in times of sorrow that I have grown as an individual and realized that I am not totally in control of my life. Instead, I had to make the most of the season of the present time, and I grew exponentially as an individual because I was humbled.

Once I had spoken with family and friends, I would begin to thoroughly research my diagnosis; more specifically, I would spend countless hours in the library, as well as seek the advice of a multitude of cancer survivors, or resources that spoke of individuals who had greatly surpassed their prognoses. In this way I would be able to make the most informed decision possible in terms of my personal diagnosis. I could determine how to alter my diet, as well as regulate other activity that may affect not only my physical health, but my overall mentality. When conducting research I would begin to feel a sense of empowerment by realizing that there are aspects of my life that I can and should do something about, and although I would be faced with trial, it is through those trials that I could set an influential example for others.

Additionally, once I became more informed of my condition, I would like to speak in classrooms at the local grade school, high school, or university. Through my lectures I would tell Rhio’s story as well as explain my situation, and express the utmost importance of not allowing the expectations of others to hinder the quality of life that an individual has. The power of the mind is an incredible thing; there has never been a truer saying spoken than “mind over matter.” By speaking to students, I could give them hope if they had a relative or friend who had received a dismal prognosis, but I could also inform them that it is the opinion they possess of themselves and the positive individuals who surround them that should have the greatest influence upon who they are and the way they conduct themselves. I would also stress the importance of giving to others. While living out the last years of my life, I would like to take part in many service projects throughout the community. If I was unable to do so due to fatigue, I would at least like to influence others enough to serve in any capacity that they can, because it is only when one is completely giving of one’s self that he achieves a great sense of fulfillment and satisfaction from life.

Similarly to Rhio, I would look beyond chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery if they had little to offer. I would take much time and consideration carrying out my own research in order to find the best possible methods for my personal treatment. In order to perform my research, I would formulate a strategic plan. When writing my plan to cope with cancer, I would take into consideration many aspects of my life, such as anxiety, fatigue, pain, or stress. These symptoms cannot be dealt with through traditional methods, rather, it is important to identify something that one enjoys doing and do it often in order to effectively manage such symptoms. In my own life, I would incorporate gentle exercise, music therapy, and scripture reading. Exercise, music therapy, and scripture reading have been proven to reduce stress and anxiety. While these coping methods may not be for everyone, it is important that the person diagnosed discovers what brings joy in his or her life. In this way symptoms are relieved, and the focus from the cancer is offset, if only temporarily. Additional practices to take into consideration consist of mediation, aromatherapy, and other relaxation techniques.

Concerning my strategic plan, I would implement time management skills to make the most of every season. As a college student, I have learned the utmost importance of taking the time each day to write a schedule; I have found that I am able to accomplish much more than what I write down on paper, as I fully utilize each hour of the day. I achieve a great sense of satisfaction in the way that I know that I am making the most of my time. If I were diagnosed with cancer, I would continue to implement a daily routine, but I would incorporate elements such as doctor visits, alternative cancer treatments (such as exercise), research, and visits to students.

I believe that finding alternative approaches to cope with cancer besides chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery is an extremely critical component of any cancer patient’s life. Other methods will help not only ensure longevity of life, but produce the joy in one’s livelihood that any person needs to remain optimistic and motivated. Those surrounding a cancer patient, inclusive of doctors, family, and friends, must explore their creative realm to help an individual with cancer remain positive and discover where his or her passions in life lie. Finding meaning in one’s life, even if it is only for a short while, will help to improve progress in overcoming or preventing cancer and ultimately give people the greatest chance of survival.

Even if an individual is given a prognosis of only a year to live, one can choose to make the most of those 525,600 minutes and beyond. Longevity of cancer patients’ lives, as evidenced by James “Rhio” O’Connor, can be increased by the positivity of doctors, family, and friends, all-encompassing research, and making the most of one’s time both personally and through service to others. Rhio’s legacy is one that certainly will not be forgotten any time soon, and he sets forth a valuable example in what it means to live in the seasons of love.

Author: Michaela Sasse mjsasse@mail.fhsu.edu

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