Choosing Years: Making Empowered Decisions to Treat Cancer, by Allen Muresan

At the age of 61, James Rhio O’Connor thought his greatest challenges were already behind him and that he’d be spending his twilight years with loved ones reflecting on a life well lived. But, in October of 2001, doctors diagnosed him with pleural mesothelioma. It was terminal, and they gave him less than a year to live. Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that affects the mesothelium, a protective sac covering the internal organs of the body; pleural mesothelioma specifically targets the membrane surrounding the lungs. Currently, the most effective FDA-approved treatment for this type of cancer is chemotherapy—the only option the doctors gave him. Because of the location and progress of Mr. O’Connor’s mesothelioma, surgical removal was not possible, and radiation would not have been effective. Rather than submit himself to the barrage of chemotherapy chemicals on the off-chance that he’d actually survive longer than a year, Mr. O’Connor decided to forge his own path to recovery. He was able to outlive his prognosis by over six years following a non-FDA-approved (“alternative”) treatment plan.

Examples of Alternative Therapies and Reasons for Using Them Even Though They Are Not FDA-approved

Hippocrates, the Greek father of modern medicine, said “Let food be thy medicine.” Why have we overlooked the simplest and most obvious source of nutrition and health? Food, water and light provide the essential nutrients we need to live. Why shouldn't we also look to them for defense when disease attacks our bodies?

James Rhio O’Connor was able to employ completely natural methods to treat his disease. First, he detoxified his body from years of toxins that had accumulated as a result of the half million chemicals in our environment—chemicals that didn't exist 100 years ago. In order for the body to effectively fight disease, it must be operating in its optimal, clean state, allowing it to focus its resources on the disease. Examples of detox programs include fasting (water-only fast, “Master Cleanse,” juice-only fast), cleansing (colonics, salt water flush, Epsom flush, liver cleanse, grape and grapefruit juice cleanse) or simply abstaining from a certain food for a period of time. Besides the mental and spiritual benefits, fasting also provides the body with the opportunity to restore, refortify and strengthen itself against illness. With the prevalence of today’s low-quality, chemical-laden foods, detoxing is more important than ever, but detoxing is considered “alternative.”

Once detoxed, O’Connor changed his diet to only the cleanest, freshest and healthiest natural foods. With the services of a certified nutritionist, he created a custom-tailored diet consisting of organic fish and legumes while avoiding, hydrogenated oils and processed foods altogether. This is considered “alternative.”

Rather than taking a cocktail of chemotherapy drugs specifically designed to poison your body with the hope that the cancer dies before you do, O’Connor created his own blend of dietary supplements including vitamins, vegetables, minerals, fruits, amino acids, oils, enzymes and herbs—all naturally occurring. This is considered “alternative.”

Following this regimen, O’Connor lived for seven and half years after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, and this is considered “alternative”? Doctors advised him to poison his body with chemotherapy and radiation, rather than undergo detoxification. They prescribed him chemicals instead of nutritional supplements. The reason he outlived his prognosis is because he took it upon himself to research a treatment plan that he felt was best-suited to his needs. Most people will not do this; they do not even know it’s an option because it is considered “alternative” and not openly discussed in hospitals. Why should "alternative" treatments be considered? Because finding the right treatment will work or, at least, give you a fighting chance.

Anti-angiogenesis is a relatively new FDA-approved treatment offering some promising results. Angiogenesis is the process that forms new blood vessels and cells within the body. A tumor cannot grow larger than a few millimeters in size without a supply of blood, so it tricks the body into creating new blood vessels which in turn feed the tumor and allow it to grow. Angiogenesis inhibitors, or anti-angiogenesis compounds, prevent these new blood vessels from forming. If a tumor does not have access to new blood vessels, it will either starve or remain non-malignant. However, the FDA-approved angiogenesis inhibitors are location-specific and each comes with its own side effects. Many foods are rich in angiogenesis inhibitors and certain teas and herbs are the most potent, but the FDA does not approve of using foods rich in anti-angiogenic compounds as a form of treatment—only drugs.

Improvements That Can Be Made to Our Healthcare System and the Way We Treat Cancer in the US

While an “anything goes” approach to treatment is clearly not the answer, the FDA can certainly reform its approval process to allow for more treatments that are not drug-based in nature. It can cost $400 million to bring a new drug to the market and many years of testing and trials—this is required because drugs are so dangerous. If we began looking at natural methods and compounds, rather than drugs and chemicals, it would not be so difficult to prove the safety and effectiveness of treatment. However, because research is ultimately determined by money and capital, investors are only willing to fund a product that will guarantee profits. It is difficult or impossible to patent homeopathic, holistic or natural remedies, so companies have no interest in pursuing them as profitable investments. As a result, public health lies in the hands of corporate interests. Rather than doing research into how certain plants may be used to treat or fight cancer, corporations create synthetic drugs that mimic compounds found in those plants so they can patent them and make money. These drugs are unnatural and come with a barrage of side-effects which then need additional drugs, each with their own side-effects, to offset the side-effects of the original drug. The United States has spent $6 trillion on warfare in the last decade, surely there’s money enough to research healing methods whose principal motivation is helping others rather than turning a profit. 

Because anything that goes into the body will affect the mind to some degree as well, taking drugs out of the equation will help us gain a better understanding of the relationship between body and mind and how one affects the other. Modern science has vehemently resisted anything that can’t be observed. What has been known to be true of the human experience and condition for thousands of years by the ancients, spiritual seekers, prophets and visionaries, is only now beginning to be considered by the most advanced hospitals in the United States: treatment begins with “the whole person,” rather than just the disease, and the understanding that physical health is related to the emotional and spiritual condition of the individual.

Let’s educate our citizens from an early age to recognize cancer-causing products and lifestyles: smoking, over-consumption of low-quality food products, over-exposure to environmental chemicals, detachment from nature and natural beauty, stress and the myriad of things that cause stress. Instead of waiting for cancer to attack the lungs, for example, let’s live a life that keeps our lungs safe. Let’s start listening to our bodies rather than letting others tell us what we need. Let’s start raising our own awareness about what’s going on around us rather than letting television tell us what to do. Let’s start caring more about what we put in our bodies than what we put on our bodies. Let’s learn to love ourselves rather than convincing others to do it for us. Let’s discover our own passion and purpose rather than financing someone else’s. Let’s learn to prevent the disease positively rather than fighting it negatively. The practices that prevent disease are usually the same ones that promote health and happiness. Let’s believe in something; then we’ll have a reason to live with intention and purpose.


To heal a person, one must also heal the mind. People with a positive outlook on life experience far better health than those who are negative. Those who believe in a higher power or follow a spiritual practice find themselves better-equipped to cope with illness than those who feel that life is meaningless. If we widen the scope to treat our whole society through education—teaching people how to live healthily, how to live happily without material excess, how to live fruitfully without greed, how to love themselves and others—cancer may begin to lose its hold. Perhaps treating cancer is beyond the scope of science itself. Perhaps, it is ultimately up to the individual to live consciously, with awareness, educating and empowering one’s self, coming to terms with one’s existence and how to live well and choosing the best course of action in health and sickness through research, introspection and faith. Or, perhaps, we are in it together.