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James “Rhio” O’Connor Memorial Scholarship Essay

by Alyssa R. DeArment, junior, exercise physiology, Ohio Northern University 
March 15, 2013

So often in the news we hear about breast cancer, lung cancer, or prostate cancer, but seldom do we hear about mesothelioma. The mesothelium is a covering that surrounds internal organs. In the lungs the covering is referred to as the pleura. In the abdomen it is called the peritoneum. The mesothelium that surrounds the heart is called pericardium. This covering provides lubrication between the internal organs and allows them to glide over and about other organs and move smoothly within the cavity. Mesothelioma attacks the mesothelium causing its cells to divide uncontrollably. This excessive growth can invade nearby structures thereby allowing the cancer to metastasize. There are over 2,000 new cases of this form of cancer diagnosed every year, and one of those individuals given the diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma, a form of this incurable cancer, was a man named James “Rhio” O’ Connor.

Rhio was aware of mesothelioma’s sobering statistic: a 5-year survival rate with traditional therapies such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation that has steadily been around 8.5% regardless of the type. With this knowledge, Rhio decided that rather than lie down and wait for death, he would take it upon himself to research mesothelioma for countless hours in learning about the short- and long-term side effects of the current therapies offered and the beliefs behind them. Additionally, he formed his own team of doctors and scientists that helped him to maintain an optimistic spirit and develop his own curative protocol. He ultimately adopted a protocol that consisted of vitamins, minerals, a healthy vegetarian diet, and mind-body medicine. As a result of this protocol Rhio defied the 1-year prognosis he was given and lived for 6 more years.

In the world of cancer treatment, traditional medicine is a one-way street. On this side of the street are the pharmaceutical companies that do not financially support Rhio’s holistic approaches because they cannot be patented. They view alternative therapies as offering no benefit to their companies, and as a result few if any tests or trials are conducted on their effectiveness at prolonging life or curing cancers such as mesothelioma. In effect, all traffic on this street moves in only one direction, and the alternative therapies that led to Rhio’s 6-year survival have not found a lane on this one-way street. Instead of preventing these therapies from proceeding towards a cure, they should be given the green light to pursue their untapped potential because together they are seeking the ultimate goal of preventing and curing cancer.

Rhio’s story is inspiring for a variety of reasons. First, he dared to step outside of the traditional definition of patient and refused to let his cancer diagnosis define him. Second he took a bold step and uncovered ways to prolong his life through alternative therapies. By daring to think outside the box, he paved a new “on ramp” onto the one-way street for cancer patients, where before there was no entrance. He established the guidelines for patients to seek other forms of therapy, those that occur in nature and not only those created in a laboratory. Lastly, he believed in something greater than himself.

If I were diagnosed with such an aggressive and terminal cancer prognosis, I would do my best to follow in Rhio’s footsteps and work tirelessly to uncover the best possible therapy for my situation regardless of whether that be traditional or alternative. I would seek out a team of doctors who were open and receptive to alternative therapies and who held positive views of these alternative approaches even if this meant getting a second, third or even a fourth opinion. I would do everything that I could to not let the cancer define me. I would want to live whatever amount of time that remained with the best possible quality of life in an effort to maintain my dignity as a person. To make this important of a decision I would look beyond chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery if they had little to offer but misery and look at more marginal therapies such as those that Rhio chose.

I believe that there is room for a great deal of improvement in the process of preventing and curing cancer. Science continues to uncover and develop new tests that are able to identify a person’s susceptibility to certain cancers such as the BRAC test that identifies if a person has an inclination to develop breast cancer. Once scientists have identified that a patient is susceptible to a certain cancer, they should take precautionary measures to help ensure the patient can fight the odds as best as possible, whether by following conventional surgeries such as a double mastectomy in the case of breast cancer, or changing a diet or lifestyle choice that can ultimately control the development of cancer. In Rhio’s case his pleural mesothelioma was most likely caused by the asbestos that he was exposed to at an early age; if the medical community could link other environmental factors to cancers, we could gain an upper hand on cancer and discover the path to its destruction. I also think that researchers ought to follow in Rhio’s footprints and begin to study more thoroughly the effects that exercise, diet, genetics and behavioral attributes have on preventing and curing cancers. For example, in a recent study the results indicated that taking a Centrum multivitamin reduced males’ risk for cancer by 8%. Not only should vitamins be considered as an alternative therapy but exercise, too, can play a very important role in the prevention of diseases and even possibly cancers, as my studies in exercise physiology at Ohio Northern University have shown me. Taking all of these factors into consideration, Rhio laid the foundation nearly 10 years ago in a new fight against cancer.

I also believe that once a person is diagnosed with a cancer the physicians should lay every possible treatment on the table for the patient whether it is conventional or alternative. Perhaps, for the pharmaceutical companies as well as the medical community to be open-minded toward these alternative approaches, a type of incentive may need to be offered in the form of extra funding for research or the possibility of patents on certain types of vitamins and minerals. With these incentives in place, I believe that alternative therapies will achieve a new level of respect and in doing so may finally end the war on cancer that was declared by President Nixon in 1971.

Overall, cancer is horrific diagnosis that takes a significant toll on the body. We have made great strides in creating therapies that work for some forms of cancer, and we should continue to push forward and investigate alternative approaches that could prevent or cure these cancers and increase the patients’ chance of survival. As a country we should do everything feasible to stop this leading cause of death and beat this “incurable” disease.


Aleccia, J. (2012, October 17). Daily multivitamin cuts men’scancer risk by 8 percent, large study finds.

Chuck, E., & Palmer, A. (2012). Surviving mesothelioma: A patient's guide.