Jessica Basciano - Patient Story

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"I'll never forget how caring and understanding the doctors and staff at Fox Chase were."

— Jessica Basciano

Fourteen years ago, I was a 31-year-old mother of a two-year-old and 31 weeks into my second pregnancy when my doctor discovered a large mass on my liver. I spent five weeks in the hospital bed and then gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl. I had an MRI following the birth of my daughter and was diagnosed with an adenoma, or a noncancerous mass, on my liver.

In August that year, I had the mass removed at a Philadelphia hospital and the diagnosis was changed to primary liver cancer. Even though I had cancer, my liver was otherwise healthy with no signs of hepatitis or cirrhosis. This type of cancer is extremely rare and occurs in only one in four million cases. My doctors recommended an aggressive treatment plan that would mean 18 months of chemotherapy given in six- day cycles, followed by one day off.

Ironically, right about the same time I was diagnosed with primary liver cancer, a Superfund site was set up right at the end of the street where my parents lived in Pennsylvania and where I grew up. A chemical called PCE, or tetrachloroethylene, had been discovered in the water. The number one cancer attributed to PCE contamination is primary liver cancer.

After I was diagnosed, I never cried, but I was mad. I just kept thinking that there is no way this thing is going to beat me. I was motivated to fight, no matter what needed to be done. My family and I decided to do some research before I started any treatment plan. We wanted multiple opinions about treatment for this type of cancer, and so we met with doctors at regional hospitals in the Philadelphia area and in New York. Finally, we made an appointment at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Going to Fox Chase was initially difficult for me. When I was a child, a friend’s mother had cancer and had died at Fox Chase, so I always had these horrible thoughts in my head. It was literally the last place I wanted go. But those fears went away as soon as I met with John Hoffman, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist. There I was, 31 years old with a newborn and a two-year old, and there was no way I should have been having this conversation about this type of cancer with anyone. I really made a connection with Dr. Hoffman, primarily because he was right there with me in terms of how crazy it was that this was all happening. I felt as though he truly understood my situation.

Dr. Hoffman and the rest of my oncology team at Fox Chase were the only team of doctors I had met with who recommended exploratory surgery before deciding on a treatment plan, and I agree with that course of action.

During the surgery they removed satellite tumors—ones that have spread from the primary tumor through the lymph system very close to the original tumor. The results showed clean margins, but there was no guarantee that all of the cancer had been removed from my body.

I am a fighter and wanted to know whether there was something additional I could do to ensure that I was cancer free. With the support of my Fox Chase team, I continued to do research about my condition and discovered that doctors in Hong Kong were using what was then an experimental procedure to isolate and eradicate cancer by inserting radioactive isotopes into the liver through an artery. The procedure had not yet been FDA approved for treatment of primary liver cancer in the U.S., although it is now approved. After learning about the treatment, I made the decision to travel to Hong Kong.

Doctors at Fox Chase were supportive of my decision and transferred all my medical records to the Hong Kong hospital. I underwent surgery there, followed by an 11-day stay in isolation. I returned home for follow-up care every three months for three years at Fox Chase.

I do have some side effects from cancer treatment. My bones break easily and often, and after these injuries my doctors always check for signs of bone cancer. Because doctors believe that my cancer was environmentally caused, I have blood work done every six months.

I will never forget how caring and understanding the doctors and staff were at Fox Chase. They always listened to me, they really understood my situation, and they encouraged me to seek out alternative treatment, which, in the end, proved to be monumental. I really feel like Fox chase supported me in my battle. I am living proof that partnering with professionals that you feel are in line with your thinking and your desires makes all the difference in the world.

I was very lucky because I had a family who really helped me. My mom, my dad, my grandmom took care of my kids while I was going through everything so that my husband could be with me. In many ways, I don’t even really think about cancer now. A few years ago, my husband and I and our two daughters moved to a farm where we all have our horses. People we have met here don’t know about my history with cancer, and I don’t talk about it. I feel that my cancer is a thing of the past, and am thankful to live a great life.

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