Finding Hope and Keeping Faith Amid a Cancer Diagnosis
“My faith in Fox Chase was strong, and so I just kept holding on.”
— Lawrence James, Husband, Father, Germ Cell Tumor Survivor
Lawrence James woke up on a Friday morning in 2008 with a plan: in one week he would propose to his girlfriend, Tia, in front of a summer-night campfire.
Lawrence had already bought the ring on Jewelers’ Row with Christopher Holland, his friend and business partner at Connexus Technology, the software company the two co-founded. At 28 years old, Lawrence was eager to start a life and a family with the woman he loved.
But the shock of some alarming symptoms put that dream on hold.
“I was out to dinner with Tia at a restaurant in downtown Philly,” Lawrence said. “And every time I would take a bite of food or drink of water, I felt this pressure rushing to my head, and my eyes started to feel like they were bulging out of my head.”
In the days that followed, his symptoms would worsen. After experiencing balance problems and seeing blurry halos around traffic lights, Lawrence “went a little Google crazy” searching for what these health problems could mean.
“The only thing that I could find was some symptoms of inflammation related to Lyme Disease,” said Lawrence. So, he went to his local community hospital thinking that was the diagnosis he was going to get.
Instead, to his shock, a CT scan showed a mass in his chest the size of a softball.
A Shocking Discovery
“The doctor came in the room and said, ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, but you have a mass that’s attached to your venous system and heart wall,’” Lawrence said.
The mass was suffocating Lawrence from the inside out, pressing on his venous system and separating the blood flow between his head and his body – a condition called superior vena cava syndrome.
“I wasn’t sure it was actually happening. It was like one of the worst nightmares you could experience, as a 28-year-old guy with the rest of my life ahead of me,” Lawrence said.
After a grueling overnight hospital stay – “I was up all night crying, asking God how this could be happening to me” – his doctor scheduled a biopsy surgery. Just before he was wheeled in for surgery, Lawrence asked his mother to go to his apartment and get the engagement ring he had bought for Tia.
“She brought it to the hospital, and from my hospital bed, I told Tia how I felt about her,” Lawrence said. “I told her that regardless of what happens, my intention was to spend the rest of my life with her and I proposed. We cried together and she said ‘Yes.’ It was an amazing moment,” he said.
Following the surgery, his doctors couldn’t determine what the mass was. All they could tell Lawrence was that it was growing aggressively.
“They told me they weren’t equipped to help me. I didn’t feel much hope or much relief from that situation,” Lawrence said.
“I thought, ‘My time here is over. I need to be at a place where the doctors are confident, where they’ve seen this before, and where they’re ready to help me get better. That place was Fox Chase Cancer Center,” he said.
A Turning Point
After Lawrence came to Fox Chase, he was immediately given radiation treatment to shrink the mass. He got a call soon after from Fox Chase doctor Yu-Ning Wong who gave him a diagnosis at long last: germ cell tumor. And that wasn’t all.
“The tumor in my chest had metastasized to one of my lungs,” he said.
Lawrence said he knew time was of the essence, “but at no point did my doctors at Fox Chase ever make me feel as if I was running out of time.”
He said, “They made me feel at ease, while at the same time acting swiftly to make sure I was going to have the best possible outcome.”
To treat the tumor, he was put on a course of chemotherapy, which led to another tough blow for Lawrence.
“All the chemo drugs – Cisplatin, Bleomycin, Etoposide – had the possible side effects of infertility. It was a blow to the gut for Tia and I because we had planned to start a family after we got married,” Lawrence said.
“But, Fox Chase was really sensitive to the fact that I was 28 and was beginning my life, so they were very careful about dosing, in order to give me the best chance at a future with my family,” he said. “My faith in Fox Chase was strong and so I just kept holding on.”
A New Hope
Following a few weeks of chemotherapy and a delicate surgery to remove the mass from his chest and lungs, Lawrence left Fox Chase. He later got a call from Dr. Wong’s fellow telling him he was cancer-free.
“It was incredible. My family was there. We hugged and cried, thanking God for what we believed to be a miracle, and for giving me a second chance,” he said.
Lawrence and Tia got married on November 8, 2008. Later, during an appointment with a fertility specialist, the couple was told they wouldn’t be able to have children, but after a year after his diagnosis, Lawrence’s test results gave the two a new hope.
His results were normal, and a month later, Tia was pregnant with their first child. On Oct. 2, 2011, the couple welcomed a healthy baby boy named Josiah, meaning “God heals.” And, in 2014, Lawrence and Tia had their second child, a daughter named Aliyah.
Now, seven years after his cancer diagnosis, Lawrence describes his experience after Fox Chase as “one miracle after another.”
“Fox Chase is a place where hope, love, and healing all come together for people when they’re going through the most difficult time they’ll ever experience,” he said.
“Family means everything to me. I’m married to the woman I love, and I have two beautiful children whom I get to hug every day. I can only say that because I started my cancer care at Fox Chase.”
Connecting his community
Lawrence has always been a strong believer in the power of prayer. Through his experience, and with the resources of his company, Lawrence created a website called PrayerConnexus.com, designed to connect people in need of prayer with others around the world who "have a heart to pray." To date, thousands of people around the world have connected through this site.