Choosing Life After Being Dealt a Dead Hand by Vincent Prezioso

Vince is a good friend of mine who sent this essay over to me for publication. I think this story mixes well with the holistic methods of healing commonly discussed on this website.

Cancer. The word strikes fear into the hearts of any person who wishes to live. Nearly every person has had some brush with cancer in the family or has a friend who has lost a loved one, or even themselves been stricken with this deadly disease. But what is cancer? What does it take to overcome a diagnosis and a blank stare by a highly trained and experienced physician who knows that you don’t have much time left to live? James “Rhio” O’Connor faced this tragedy and he was not willing to let it conquer him without a fight.

Cancer is the rapid growth and spread of hazardous cells that can form infectious growths to attack the immune system and even the blood supply. Mr. O’Connor developed a form of cancer called Mesothelioma. This form of cancer is characterized by growths of cancerous cells in the mesothelium; a membrane that covers and protects most of the internal organs of the body. On that fateful day in October of 2011, Mr. O’Connor was given less than a year to live when physicians found a large tumor in his lung. Upon investigation, it appeared the cancer was induced by prolonged asbestos inhalation earlier in life. Obviously this whole ordeal came as a shock to Mr. O’Connor and his family. Instead of picking a plot at the cemetery and getting his final objectives completed, Mr. O’Connor decided to take action. He investigated his options. Surgery was ruled out due to the proximity of the tumor to his spine. Mr. O’Connor denied the procedure of chemotherapy because it seemed to him that he wanted to live his ‘final’ days with his own strength and will intact.

His initial course of action is exactly the one that I would I have taken if I were given such dire news. Mr. O’Connor looked outside of the institutional method of healing and used his own bodily processes to regain a foothold on his condition. Mr. O’Connor listened to his body. He began a massive regimen of supplements and foods vital for a healthy immune system. His ‘anti-cancer’ diet included plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and as much organic foods as possible. These foods are full of nutrients and enzymes that help fight diseases and promote the immune function and oxygenation of the blood to promote healing. He also took great care to not over-stress himself, to appreciate all that life has to offer, and keep the relationships in his life strong. Love and compassion are powerful healing qualities that all humans share. Having a good support system is crucial to managing stress.

Proper diet and exercise are concepts that we can take by example from Mr. Connor and utilize at this very moment. Some people need to be given a ‘life-or-death’ scenario to begin making constructive decisions to properly nourish their bodies. I have personally had my own battle with making healthy decisions. Nearly 4 years ago I lost 112 pounds. It took me nearly a year to achieve this, but I did so with many of the same methods that Mr. O’Connor utilized. Along with proper diet and nutrition, I too listened to my body as Mr. O’Connor did. A steady program that I constructed myself composed of moderate cardiovascular workouts and intense interval training complemented with weight training and strengthening has allowed me to keep a healthy and happy life. The skills and determination that I gained throughout this process have allowed me to continue making constructive decisions to regulate my life. I have since enrolled at the Fortis Institute in Woodlawn, MD in the Radiologic Technology program, and I am exceeding every expectation that I set for myself.

It is with this same perseverance that Mr. O’Connor lived out the next 7 ½ years once he was diagnosed. Never once admitting defeat to cancer which intimidates most people when the simple word is uttered. I would again agree with Mr. O’Connor for turning down chemotherapy.

In my studies in radiation protection and radiation physics, I have learned all too well the damage that even minor doses of radiation can inflict on the body. Yes, the risk is supposedly worth the reward. Yet the percentage of patients who have actually benefitted from such a demoralizing and arduous process is negligible. In fact, the incidence of contracting cancer itself is negligible. The random occurrences of cancer, whether they be hereditary or brought on by smoking for example, are very difficult to prove. The only way that we can potentially protect ourselves is to take care of the things we have control of. Diet, exercise, nutrition, stress management, and spiritual guidance are all very real and proven ways to personally manage our afflictions. I believe that there should be more of an effort to promote more alternative medicine. In my personal experiences, people are more likely to recover from their afflictions if they believe that they possess the ability to do so. Other cultures, particularly the Asian cultures, use all sorts of herbal remedies, acupuncture, meditation exercises, and other stress management techniques. I have seen a trend in more Holistic treatments being used to manage disease processes. These methods can be as simple as taking medicines that have natural ingredients and creating relaxation techniques that use our own bodily processes to heal and manage pain. This concept again relates to the foods that we eat; always seeking the natural alternative over artificial sweeteners and preservatives which have had numerous studies linking them to possible cancer incidences. I’m certainly no doctor, ergo I do not attempt to debate the possibility of what may or may not cause cancer. However, if I have my own choice of what I ingest on a daily basis, I would prefer to known where the ingredients of those foods come from and I feel that most people will feel the same if only they would take a moment to think and decide.

The final lesson that I took from James Rhio O’Connor’s life is that he simply was not able to admit that it was his time to die. He teaches a valuable lesson to everyone who procrastinates or takes things for granted. When I read his story for the first time, I had to take a step back and realize that all the things that I strive for are constructive but I should appreciate more of the things that I do have rather than what I would like to have. The simple concept of having clean water to drink and a home to sleep in is a huge step above the poorer portions of the world. The ability to read and write and to attend school by choice is something we all take for granted in this country. Personally, I don’t intend to waste my opportunities. Even more than ever I appreciate my family and my health, and I hope that if you are reading this and James O’Connor’s story, you take away the same lesson.

If you would like to know more about James “Rhio” O’Connor or about mesothelioma, please visit to learn about his story and other incredible stories about surviving this deadly disease.

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