This column originally ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Oct. 22, 2007
Everyone enjoys a good party. On Oct. 15, Jacob Giudicy of Imperial, Mo., had a party of the best kind. Eleven-year-old Jacob had a “No More Chemo” party at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis, to mark the end of nearly a year of chemotherapy to combat aggressive bone cancer.
Jacob’s journey with cancer began just about a year ago. While helping his father lift a bag of fertilizer in August 2006, Jacob heard a snap in his left arm. This spelled bad news for the Giudicy family, who took great pride in Jacob’s exploits as an all-star baseball pitcher and feared he had injured his shoulder.
But from there, the bad news just got worse. As Jacob’s fractured humerus failed to mend after two months, his parents requested a follow-up X-ray.
“When they did that test, the doctor came out and said we needed to go to Cardinal Glennon right away,” recalls Jacob’s mother, Stephanie Giudicy. “We were only at Cardinal Glennon for about 30 minutes before the doctor told us Jacob had osteosarcoma. We were really taken back by that; it’s not at all what we expected to hear.”
Jacob’s humerus, the long bone that runs from the elbow to the shoulder, had been virtually eaten away by the cancer. Three initial surgeries were followed by three months of chemotherapy that left Jacob with hair loss, nausea and painful mouth sores.
Chemotherapy involves injection of chemical drugs that kill rapidly-dividing cells including cancer. Unfortunately, it also kills the bone marrow where blood cells are made and can harm other rapidly growing cells such as hair and the skin cells inside the mouth. Jacob’s aggressive chemotherapy “roadmap” called for 18 treatments over the last 11 months.
Osteosarcoma occurs in only about 4,000 cases each year, but its victims are most commonly children. It most often starts in the legs or arms, and can spread to the lungs or other bones. Symptoms of bone cancer or osteosarcoma include:
- Bone pain
- Tenderness, swelling or redness at the site of the bone pain
- A bone fracture after a routine movement, such as throwing a ball
For more information on pediatric cancer, visit the Web site of the National Childhood Cancer Foundation at www.curesearch.org .
“We just can’t say enough about Dr. (William) Ferguson and his oncology team and all the nurses,” says Jacob’s father, Bill Giudicy. “It feels more like a family here than caregivers, the way they treat and care for Jake.”
Cardinal Glennon staff members have a similar regard for Jacob’s fighting spirit. “Jacob has tolerated his chemotherapy well to this point and he has kept his spirits up,” says Abby Sharamitaro, a nurse practitioner in the Bob Costas Cancer Center at Cardinal Glennon. “X-rays have shown no recurrence of the tumor and he’s already talking about playing baseball next year.”
Jacob’s mother says he also looks forward to returning to a more normal school routine as a sixth-grader at Seckman Elementary School.
“There was some thought that they would need to amputate Jacob’s left arm and shoulder in those early surgeries,” his mother says. “But when they were wheeling him into surgery, he told me if they took his arm someone would be in trouble.”
On Feb. 9 of this year, surgeons performed a 14-hour surgery to replace Jacob’s humerus with a cadaver bone received from a donor bank in Chicago. Today the arm is functioning well, albeit with slightly limited range of motion.
“I’m really excited. I’ve had to endure a lot of things during the treatment, but now I’m feeling a lot better,” Jacob says. “I’ll have to sit out one more year, but after that I’m definitely playing baseball again.”
After more than 30 inpatient stays of three to six days each, Jacob received his final chemotherapy treatment on Oct. 12. Medical center staff hosted a No More Chemo party for Jacob last Monday, as they do for all children at the conclusion of their chemotherapy course. The party included a cookie, a “No More Chemo” t-shirt and, appropriately, a super hero cape.
“We started having the No More Chemo parties because the children need to celebrate that chemotherapy has ended and that their lives will go on,” Sharamitaro says. Sharamitaro further explains that Jacob and other patients like him continue to be followed throughout their lives by the oncology staff, to study long-term effects of treatment and to advocate for patients’ rights as they enter school and the workforce.
“Jacob has changed through all this. We never had a doubt that he was going to get through this because he’s so tough. He had always dreamed of being a professional football player or a Marines drill instructor,” his mother says, explaining that his grandfather was an Army drill instructor. “He won’t be able to follow those dreams because of his arm, but now he says that he would like to invent a shot that could be given to kids and make their cancer go away.
“It’s almost like he was one the brink of death and we brought him back to life. We’re so proud of him.”
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.