Taking a risk for love, not in my cancer treatment.

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My doctor gave me a second chance – a second life. I thank God for him.

— Giuseppe Leo

I’ve never been afraid to take risks in life, and have always been one to seek adventure. I’m 70 years old now, and I often reflect back on my decision to leave my home country of Italy for London in 1964. A few years later, still seeking adventure, I vacationed in the United States, where I met, fell in love with, and married my wife, Monalisa, all within two weeks. We settled in southern New Jersey and built our life together, eventually opening a restaurant. 

Giuseppe's son and daughter-in-law, Giuseppe Jr. and Tammy Giuseppe's son and daughter-in-law, Giuseppe Jr. and Tammy

What I had planned as a vacation turned into a lifetime of adventure and happiness, and I want to keep it going as long as possible. So I was concerned in January 2015 when I noticed some changes in my health, including rectal bleeding. Without hesitation, I went to my primary care doctor. A colonoscopy revealed a tumor in my colon, and I was diagnosed with a large rectal cancer.

Both my mother and mother-in-law had gone through the same type of cancer, and both were treated at Fox Chase, so I knew that was where I wanted to be treated.

My daughter-in-law did some research and found a surgical oncologist that would be the best fit for my situation, so we scheduled an appointment with him in February 2015.

Fox Chase cared. 
My tumor was about 6 inches long and would need to be surgically removed after a short course of chemotherapy and radiation. My doctor explained that during surgery to remove the tumor, a temporary ileostomy bag might need to be created to protect the new connection site until it healed.

I was not completely satisfied with this plan, and he could tell.

Sensing my discomfort with the plan, my doctor called my wife and I as soon as we got home from the Center. She explained to him that I was still very concerned about the temporary ileostomy bag. He again explained to us why temporary ileostomy bags are sometimes necessary after chemotherapy and radiation and rectal cancer surgery. He explained to us that he would re-evaluate the need for a temporary ileostomy in the operating room, but would create it if he felt it was necessary for my own safety. Monalisa remembers him saying, “I will treat him like my own father.” We knew that he would accommodate my concerns as best he could, while still providing me with the best possible plan of care - which made me feel more comfortable. 

Giuseppe's grandchildren, Nicolette, Gianna, and Giuseppe IIIGiuseppe's grandchildren, Nicolette, Gianna, and Giuseppe IIISoon after my first consultation, I went for chemotherapy and radiation treatments for six weeks. My body rested and regained strength for about 1-2 months after this, and I was ready for surgery in June. My surgical oncologist removed the cancerous tumor from my rectum over a period of several hours. Unfortunately, during the operation he evaluated the new connection site closely and decided that it should be protected with a temporary ileostomy bag. After the surgery, with my concerns and our original plan in mind, he reassured me that if he would remove as soon as I had recovered and finished the rest of my chemotherapy.

Life following surgery. 
After surgery, everything proceeded according to the plan. I completed a few more months of chemotherapy to ensure that there were no lingering cancer cells in other parts of my body. Approximately 6 months after my initial rectal cancer surgery, Dr. Esnaola performed a short procedure to remove my ileostomy bag - I was pleased that he kept his word.

My cancer is now in remission, and I come to Fox Chase every three months for a checkup to make sure it stays that way. 

Cancer left me feeling and looking almost dead. But after the care I received at Fox Chase, I now look and feel like I did before. My doctor gave me a second chance – a second life. I thank God for him.

I’m retired now, but I still put my culinary skills to good use by making wine for my friends and family to enjoy. I make sure to stay active, walking several miles each day, and I spend time looking after my grandchildren regularly.

Thank you Fox Chase. 
If I could give any advice to someone who is facing cancer, I would tell them to stay positive and trust their doctor. Surgery is not easy; it’s a bumpy road both physically and mentally. It may be a painful process, but you have to believe that you will make it. With a positive mindset and the amazing care at Fox Chase, I made it.

Monalisa and I are now thinking about how we will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.

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