Jessica Basciano - Patient Story
"I'll never forget how caring and understanding the doctors and staff at Fox Chase were."
— Jessica Basciano
Jessica Basciano is a proven fighter. At 31 years old and 31 weeks into her pregnancy with her second daughter, doctors discovered a large mass on her liver. After 5 weeks of bed rest, and the delivery of a healthy baby girl, Jessica had an MRI and was diagnosed with an adenoma, or a non-cancerous mass. In August of 2003, Jessica had the mass removed at a well-respected Philadelphia hospital. Shortly afterward, she learned that the mass was cancerous. Jessica had primary liver cancer.
Jessica's diagnosis was extremely rare because while she had primary liver cancer (cancer in other parts of the body often spreads to the liver), her liver was otherwise completely healthy with no signs of cirrhosis or hepatitis. This type of liver cancer occurs only 1 in 4 million cases. Doctors at the hospital where Jessica's mass was removed suggested an aggressive treatment plan which called for 18 months of chemotherapy consisting of 6 days on and 1 day off.
Jessica and her family, who live in Morgantown, PA, chose to educate themselves and to seek multiple opinions regarding the treatment of this rare condition. In order to do so, they traveled across Pennsylvania to New York, and saw doctors at regional hospitals in the Philadelphia area as well. But, according to Jessica, it wasn't until she met Dr. John Hoffman, a surgeon at Fox Chase Cancer Center, that she felt like she was talking to a doctor who truly understood her situation.
At 31 years old with a newborn and a toddler, Jessica was facing a diagnosis of liver cancer.
"I was 31 years old," said Jessica. "I had a newborn and a 2 year old, and there was no way I should have been having this conversation about this type of cancer with anyone, and yet there I was. Dr. Hoffman was the only doctor who I really made a connection with, primarily because he was right there with me in terms of how crazy it was that it was all happening."
Her surgeon and Dr. Christine Szarka, Jessica's medical oncologist at Fox Chase, were also the only team to recommend that Jessica undergo another exploratory surgery to see what they were dealing with before a treatment plan was developed.
Jessica appreciated the sound advice and agreed to have surgery performed to determine the next course of action.
During surgery they found and removed some satellite tumors (a tumor that spread from the primary tumor through the lymph system and is very close to the original tumor), and upon completion of the surgery, Jessica's results came back with clean margins (the border of the tissue removed in surgery). It was then that Jessica asked, "Can you guarantee that all of the cancer is gone from my body?" Although it was likely gone, the doctors could not offer a guarantee.
Jessica was a fighter - and wanted to learn if there were other options available to her.
With the support and encouragement of her doctors, she followed up on some new treatments that learned about during her research. She found that doctors in Hong Kong were using a new, experimental (at the time) procedure to isolate and eradicate cancer. The procedure involved surgically inserting radioactive isotopes into the liver through an artery. A similar procedure is now available in the United States* at leading cancer centers, such as Fox Chase. However, at the time in 2004, Jessica had to travel to Hong Kong to have it done.
And, that's exactly what she did. With the blessing and the assistance of the doctors and staff at Fox Chase, Jessica was quickly able to get all of the necessary medical records transferred to the hospital in Hong Kong and underwent surgery which was followed by an 11-day stay in isolation. She returned home to the follow-up care of Fox Chase doctors who saw her once every 3 months for the first 3 years and then once a year after that.
In 2014, at the age of 42, her children are 10 and 13 - and all of them own a horse. Jessica manages a barn and tends to their horses. She reports that working with and caring for the horses is extremely soothing and therapeutic.
"The cancer and the care seem like a lifetime ago," said Jessica. "I'll never forget how caring and understanding the doctors and staff at Fox Chase were. 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."
After being diagnosed, Jessica never cried. She admits she was mad. "I just kept thinking, there is no way this thing is going to beat me," she added. "I was motivated to fight, no matter what needed to be done. I really feel like Fox Chase supported me in my battle. I'm 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."
*Jessica underwent a lipiodol I-131 treatment. The compound is still not licensed to be given in the United States. However, Fox Chase doctors now offer other radioactive compounds that are used against liver cancer that were not available at the time Jessica needed them.