Jerry Jaszko was relaxing on the couch, watching TV, when he started experiencing difficulty breathing. He was scared, and so was his wife, Darla. They raced to the emergency room that day in November 2007, fearing for his life.
It wasn’t his heart or his lungs, but rather metastatic tumors on his liver that were pressing against his lungs. Further testing showed a blockage in his colon – it was Stage 4 cancer.
The 45-year-old construction worker didn’t expect the diagnosis, but in hindsight, says he ignored warning signs that something was wrong -- bloody stool, hemorrhoids, and stomach pain – for months.
“I’m lucky to be alive today,” said Jaszko, who lives in Batavia and works for Iron Workers Local 33. “I was in such shock in the beginning that I don’t think it really registered until a few weeks later. I never knew anyone who had cancer young and I guess I didn’t think it would or could happen to me.”
He turned to the multidisciplinary care team at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center for care. Colorectal surgeon Jenny Speranza, M.D., led coordination of his care.
Jaszko received four months of chemotherapy before two surgeries to treat his advanced disease. Oncologist Alok Khorana, M.D., suggested he participate in a study of a new targeted therapy called Erbitux in addition to standard chemotherapy. The combination was successful at beating back the tumors.
“The chemo was really hard, but definitely worth it. I had doctors coming to see me because of how everything was working in my body and how fast my tumors were shrinking,” Jaszko recalls.
Surgeon Luke Schoeniger, M.D., removed the remaining lesions from his liver and his gall bladder. Then Speranza removed the tumor and blockage in his colon.
While recovering from the procedures and treatment, Jaszko relied on his family – his wife, Darla, and two daughters, Taylor and Tristine, for support.
“We’ve got a strong family and we’re very close,” he said. “I’m enjoying my time with them. Not going to work was a difficult adjustment for me, but I’m enjoying it now. I’m able to take my daughter to school. I was never able to do that because I was always racing out the door at 5:30 in the morning to get to work on time. I’ve never been able to spend that kind of time with my children and it’s really good for us all.”