Hope by Robert Cleaveland

February 14th, 2011 by ashambarger

Hope is that quality that sustains against hopelessness; a light in the darkness.

Mesothelioma is regarded as one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. It affects linings of body cavities and tissues surrounding certain organs. Most commonly affected is the pleural cavity, although the abdominal cavity can be affected, and more rarely the heart or testicular linings. Awareness of the connection between asbestos and lung disease grew in the first half of the 20th century, and exposure to asbestos was confirmed as the primary cause of mesothelioma in the 1950’s. While treatment options have increased, and prognosis depends on several factors, average life expectancy was still only 10-11 months after diagnosis in 2010.
The author Neale Donald Walsh, in his book Conversations with God posits that the most powerful creative tool we will ever have is our own process of thought. In the book, Alcoholics Anonymous the authors identify themselves : ” more than 100 men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.” The singer/songwriter Warren Zevon, diagnosed with mesothelioma and given bare months to live in 2002, is sustained by no treatment but only his need to complete a last work and see his grandchildren born and succumbs a year and three months later. James “Rhio” O’Connor was given weeks to live after a diagnosis of mesothelioma in 2001. He committed to several alternative treatments and intensive lifestyle changes. In particular, he educated himself and designed a diet with the intent of surviving his cancer. He lived for 7 years, helping to lay out a path that would continue to give others hope. It often seems that medical miracles are defined by our inability to define the human spirit. More and more patients insist, as Mr. O’Connor did, on pursuing other avenues. Mr. O’Connor was part of a generational shift, still ongoing, as the medical community recognizes more and more that capitalizing on that indefinable spirit can be a powerful therapeutic tool. Mr. O’Connor wrote a book (They Gave Me Months, I Took Years) on making, researching, and implementing his decision. Partly as a result, finding effective alternatives is a much simpler prospect today.


Hope:n: desire accompanied by expectation
Webster’s New World Dictionary

We are in the midst of a generational shift in our thinking. Finding a solution to the health care crisis in America will be driven by our demand for effective treatments as much as by the ability of medical science to deliver those treatments. The simple facts are these – Patients choose to employ conventional treatments- radiation, surgery, chemotherapy, and pharmacology among others – because they are effective. Patients choose to employ alternative therapies – mind/body therapies, nutritional therapy, energy therapies like Reiki for instance, because they are also effective. Mr. O’Connor is one of a growing number of patients who have chosen alternative treatments as their primary therapies. The perception of the FDA as a trusted source for safety information has been eroded by a history of false starts (Celebrex and Vioxx, not to mention Thalidomide) and some see it as a shill for pharmaceutical companies. Thus, the lack of FDA approval for some alternative therapies does not deter people as it may have a generation ago. Many respected organizations, hospitals, and schools now provide a wealth of information. Cancer Monthly ( http://www.cancermonthly.com) is an organization closely allied with Mr. O’Connor’s legacy, helping patients make informed decisions about their care. The University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center (http://www.mdanderson.org/education-and-research/resources-for-professionals/clinical-tools-and-resources/cimer/index.html) is a wealth of information and active research into alternative and complementary therapies, as well as providing training for oncology professionals.
Hope n: grounds for believing that something good may happen Oxford English Dictionary
Despite this progress, despite growing research efforts, conventional medicine often mentions the use of alternative/complementary therapies with disclaimers. Practitioners of alternative treatment methods refer to themselves as healers. Movement in thinking will take place, as it must, from both perspectives. Paul Kraus, in his book Surviving Mesothelioma and other Cancers ; a Patient’s Guide (http://www.survivingmesothelioma.com )expresses the view of traditional western cancer therapies as palliative because he sees the focus as being relief of symptoms rather than treating root causes. Remember this is a patient’s perspective but he is not alone in seeing the doctor/patient relationship in adversarial terms. We as a society must find that common ground where complementary providers are not automatically seen as charlatans, nor do we resist medical guidance, our physicians regarded as out of touch with regular folk. This shifting process is already underway. Even when results are inconclusive, as in efforts to understand the potential role of an antioxidant-rich diet in cancer prevention, the focus on seeking answers by addressing lifestyle is promising. A large body of research shows that meditation and meditative activities are very helpful. Looking to the future, as we meld the power of medicine with the power of the human spirit, it will become common for cancer patients to receive information, direction, counseling and help in applying these therapies in addition to all the best medical and pharmacological treatment available. Based on the experience of Mr. O’Connor and a growing legion of others, we will help increase not only patients’ chances of surviving cancer, but the quality of their life in survival.

Robert Cleaveland is a Sophomore at the University of New England
rcleaveland@une.edu