Enlighten Me: Family's donation gives boost to Christiana Care cancer research
Three years ago wasn’t the first time cancer entered the household of Gregg and Stacey Bacchieri.
The Kennett Square, Pa residents had been through it before, when Stacey was diagnosed with breast cancer 13 years ago.
But Gregg discovered he had a rare cancer that has skyrocketed in numbers over the last 10 years - throat cancer.
“I could just feel it - something in my throat. And so, my dentist was actually trying to figure out what was wrong and he referred me to a specialist…”
Familiar with Christiana Care Health System - where Stacey was treated for breast cancer - Gregg then proceeded with seven rounds of chemotherapy and 40 rounds of radiation at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute’s Head and Neck Cancer Multidisciplinary Center.
But the cancer recurred in May of 2015.
“I’ve been dealing this really for a full three years now because it not only recurred but it also has metastasized into my lung, so I had to go through more treatment,” Gregg said.
His doctors, Adam Raben, Neil Hockstein and Charles Schneider were an enormous help in his treatment, he says - one reason why the the couple wanted to donate $1 million to Christiana Care. But Gregg notes the money will also fill a huge need in research and knowledge.
“I don’t think there’s still a lot that is known about head and neck cancers, and I think this group is very committed to improving the way people are treated,” he said. “And it’s a fast growing cancer so something that I think they’re very committed to and I feel strongly about it as well and we both knew that this was the team to try to get behind it.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, head and neck make up about 3 percent of all cancer cases nationwide. And Christiana Care has seen a 90 percent increase in patients coming to its Graham Cancer Center for treatment over the last year.
Those numbers, and the fact that Gregg’s cancer recurred, have pushed him and his wife to always support each other, and support research to uncover more effective treatments for head and neck cancers.
But doctors are still trying to get to the bottom of what is driving increasing rates of head and neck cancers. Raben, the chairman of Radiation Oncology at Christiana Care, said there has been a shift in the type of head and neck cancers occurring in the US.
Smoking rates have declined, and so has the rate of these cancers associated with it. But over the last 10 years, he said, the US has seen an “unusual incline” in these kinds of cancers related to the oropharynx - an area in the back of the throat - in non- or former smokers.
“It didn’t make a lot of sense until we began to understand that there was a causal relationship with a virus - the HPV virus that causes cervical cancer in women,” said Raben. “We were finding that this was also causing head and neck cancer in either former smokers or never smokers, and particularly in young men and women.”
This trend, he said, mirrors the rest of the country. That’s why Christiana Care is trying to treat it more effectively with fewer side effects. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are tailored to the individual needs of each patient, but Raben notes all three methods can cause tightness in the neck and affect a patient’s speech.
And with many questions and mysteries behind cancer in general, both Gregg and Stacey Bacchieri encourage people to have a strong support system during treatment.
“And the biggest thing for both of us is that you have somebody there that supports you,” Gregg said. “Once you choose your treatment line you trust who you’re working with and we absolutely respect and really love the doctors we work with and we would recommend them to anybody.”
“Take a deep breath and possibly get a second opinion on your diagnosis and treatment options,” Stacey added. “Be strong and move forward and just battle the cancer.”