To Be Alive: The Reality of Cancer and Alternative Treatment Plans

-James “Rhio” O’Conner Memorial Scholarship Essay-

To Be Alive
The Reality of Cancer and Alternative Treatment Plans

No matter how much we may try to ignore it, no matter the means of distraction we employ, cancer is the silent killer that lies at the heart of internal suffering within many of us. Uninvited, cancer enters one’s reality without warning, without mercy. Though in explanation, cancer does not seem worthy of the fearsome connotation it has earned throughout the world, this incurable disease is one of the leading causes of premature deaths worldwide. It can be argued to be the most vicious and wide spread disease. Indiscriminate of age, gender or wealth, we each run the risk of being affected by cancer.

When defined as, the uncontrollable growth and replication of cells caused by a mutation within DNA (National Cancer Institute, 2016), cancer does not seem threatening. Perhaps this is one reason that a cure has not yet been developed. When, as humans, we are able to verbalise a concept such as cancer, to simplify it down into a mere combination of syllables and thus comprehend a diagnosis or treatment as easily as a menu or sale, we tend to become immune to the implications of such statements. Yet, these statements lack the emotion evoked by each moment spent battling cancer. They lack the insight offered by exhaustive research into this disease. They are stripped bare of the emotional turmoil suffered by all affected by the invasion of cancer into one’s reality. These are the aspects of cancer that should be emphasised; these are the aspects that motivate one to strive for a cure, for progress.

Despite this, institutionalised treatment centres and organizations, such as the FDA, lack the human factor intrinsically linked to such a disease. Regardless, the statement that we are all guilty in the construction of such institutions must always be remembered and legitimized. As a society, as a species, we have shaped the reality in which we collectively live. Its faults, detriments and downfalls are all aspects of our world which we must acknowledge; not necessarily to live with them, but to work past them together, or live despite them. Specific to cancer we must admit that, in an effort to protect masses, we have managed to dehumanize individuals in treatment plans and diagnoses.

Consider the case of James “Rhio” O’Conner, diagnosed with mesothelioma, a particularly deadly cancer, caused by mutations in the cells of membranes surrounding organs. This cancer spreads rapidly and is profoundly incurable. Though its effects may be delayed by potent chemotherapy treatment, the diagnosis of this cancer is indicative of imminent death. With it, Rhio was given a prognosis of merely one year.  In this situation it would be easy to understand, or even expect, any individual to give up, to accept their fate, and to concentrate on making their remaining time in this life as comfortable as possible. However, this is not what Rhio did.

Rather, Rhio dedicated himself to designing an alternative treatment plan by meticulously designing a diet including: vitamins, minerals, amino acids and primarily vegetarian based foods. Thanks to said food plan, as well as his selection of specific mind-body medicine techniques, Rhio managed to outlive his prognosis by more than six years. This feat is more than a stroke of luck and begs us all to question the legitimacy of alternative therapy treatment plans.

Currently, alternative therapies are considered highly controversial, untested and are unapproved by the FDA. However, this does not warrant their dismissal or their exclusion from the minds of those seeking relief from the clutches of cancer.  Surely any patient, or any patient’s doctor, must be allowed to use any treatment plans suitable as they strive to rid oneself of cancer. The fact that alternative therapies are frowned upon, their success stories even falling prey to the blanket of governmental censorship, is wrong. Consider the numerous demonstrable benefits seen by patients practicing alternative therapy, or the declarations of leaders, both political and corporate, from around the world claiming to ‘fight cancer through any valid approach’. These claims no longer seem factual, nor relevant, when alternative therapy is labelled “taboo. Each patient’s battle with cancer is a highly personal struggle, and therefore it must be treated as such, all options being considered before a potential solution is found.

The statement that alternative therapies such as vitamin supplements or nutrient rich diets are “risky” is preposterous. When it is understood that the deadliness of cancer lies in the bodies’ inability to distinguish between healthy cells and cells containing mutations, it seems obvious to attempt to strengthen healthy cells. This will occur when vitamins are provided to the body, where the nutrients are absorbed and utilised, therefore creating an internal structure that is stronger than the average individual’s own. Hence, allowing cancer patients, who have used this approach, to be better equipped and able to survive the effects of cancer with more adeptness, dignity and longevity than those not subscribing to this therapeutic method. The fact that these treatment plans lack FDA approval causes many individuals to ignore their potential benefits and dismiss them as “invalid theories”, though their legality and ease of execution still empowers individuals to independently pursue these plans. Such was the case with Rhio.

The above statements are valid, yet would be incomplete without acknowledgment of the fact that a lack of FDA approval of alternative therapy plans restricts doctors from recommending their usage, potentially limiting the positive benefits they offer patients. Unfortunately, obtaining FDA approval is not within corporate interest; costs involved in the process of obtaining FDA approval discourages firms from investing in this field; whilst, the non-exclusivity of vitamins involved in these treatment plans reduces the potential returns of selling such goods. Hence, this causes companies to prefer the manufacture of drugs, over which monopolies may be established. Once again, it can be seen that the human factor of diseases such as cancer is overshadowed by the corporate, capitalistic influence of our modern world.

In the discussion of topics such as cancer and alternative therapy, one must never allow human nature and emotion to be belittled and forgotten. In the battle to empower individuals and right a society riddled with wrongs, we must collectively open our minds to the potential benefits offered in the natural substances freely available to each of us. Tragically, we must admit that we live in a world where profits obtained through the commercialisation of diseases such as cancer are seen as more legitimate than the usage of alternative therapy in treating fatal diseases. In this reality, how can we ever expect to live despite the existence of risks, such as cancers including mesothelioma?

As Rhio, a mesothelioma patient, demonstrated, opening one’s mind to possibilities other than those which are mainstream may offer benefits previously unheard of. In order to truly progress, as a society and as a species, we must open our minds together. We must question the way we view diseases like cancer; understand that human emotion is worth more than words written on a page and that cancer is one topic that cannot be discussed and verbalised as easy as a menu or a sale.

Imagine learning that someone you love has recently been diagnosed with cancer; how would you feel knowing that companies are not willing to invest their capital on potentially revolutionary treatment plans for fear of low revenue gains? We must admit that this situation is not merely hypothetical, but a reality. Only then can we work to move past it and, meanwhile, live despite it.

To be alive is more than just to breathe. To be alive is to be conscious of the world, not just its faults, detriments and downfalls, but the potential and the existing beauty that it holds. The journey of Rhio, as he fought mesothelioma, is one admirable tale, yet its continued influence upon the lives of others is what truly transforms his story into a legacy. Rhio, and his supporters, did not reap the benefits he obtained. Rather, they sought to share these with others. This motion to change the means by which we live, to share our benefits as we sometimes share our suffering, is living. It is this which has allowed Rhio to maintain his life, to be alive, even after he took his last breath.

Author: Sofia Arthurs-Schoppe
April 1, 2016


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