2012-09-19 / Front Page
Bout with cancer leads local woman to promote research
Jessica Bruzzi of Manalapan is organizing “Step Up for Sarcoma” event on Sept. 30
Bruzzi, 22, a graduate student at Monmouth University, West Long Branch, was diagnosed in February with Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans (DFSP), a sarcoma found in the deep layers of the skin.
In March, Bruzzi underwent surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City to remove the cancer, which was in her thigh.
“Within a few days after the surgery, I received the pathology reports that showed clear margins, or in other words, the doctors believe they removed all of the cancer. It was the first time I felt relief in what felt like forever,” she said.
Bruzzi is doing well now and is extremely grateful to everyone who helped her get through the experience, including the staff at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. She has taken the experience she calls “the beginning of the most challenging and overwhelming experience of my life,” and turned it into something positive that may help other people.
Bruzzi has set up an Internet website, “Step Up for Sarcoma” and she has organized a 5K Run/Walk fundraiser which will be held on Sept. 30 at the Manalapan Recreation Center, 120 Route 522 and Taylors Mills Road, Manalapan.
The event is being coordinated with Memorial Sloan-Kettering administrators to help raise funds for a cancer that is not the focus of much research or funding. Proceeds will benefit sarcoma research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering.
In an interview, Bruzzi recalled hearing the statement that changed her life. A doctor told her, “You have an extremely rare type of cancer.”
“I immediately went numb,” she said.
Her first thoughts were of how serious the cancer was, whether she would die, or if she would lose her hair.
Bruzzi said DFSP occurs in one out of every 1 million individuals.
“To put it into perspective, in 2011 there were about 10 people diagnosed with DFSP in New Jersey,” she said. Bruzzi said she visited a doctor to have a lump removed from her thigh. She had been told by her doctor that the lump was a dermatofibroma and was nothing to worry about.
She decided to have the lump removed in February for cosmetic reasons and it was biopsied. After receiving the biopsy results and the diagnosis of cancer, the next few weeks were a blur and filled with doctor’s appointments.
She said Memorial Sloan-Kettering is one of the few centers that has experience with the rare disease. Bruzzi said that generally speaking, sarcoma has a high recurrence rate because of the way the tumor grows, and said admits the most difficult part about having sarcoma, or any other type of cancer, is worrying that it will come back.
“This has become part of my life and something I will have to struggle with for the rest of my life,” she said, adding that she considers herself lucky that the worst outcome of all of this is enduring doctor’s appointments and tests to see if the cancer has returned or recurred in a different part of her body.
Bruzzi said her hope in organizing the 5K Run/Walk is to raise awareness of sarcoma. She said most doctors have never heard of DFSP and have never seen it in a patient.
Bruzzi is pursuing her goal of becoming a mental health counselor and works as a support counselor for a youth helpline and as a mentor to an adult who is developmentally disabled.
Reflecting on her experience with cancer, Bruzzi said she tells people, “If you see something that doesn’t feel right to you, or look right to you, tell a doctor. And if you still aren’t sure or aren’t happy with what they say, tell another doctor. Fight for yourself. Follow your intuition, step up, and fight back against sarcoma.”
Bruzzi is the daughter of Dennis and Lisa Bruzzi. She has an older sister and a younger brother.
Lisa Bruzzi said, “We don’t want this to consume her life. We want her to get on with her life and do what she wants to do. We take it one day at a time, but it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about before I go to sleep. It’s always there.”
Registration for the Sept. 30 event will begin at 8 a.m. at the Manalapan Recreation Center. All are welcome to participate. The 5K Walk/Run will begin at 9 a.m. Tickets are $20 per adult and children under 10 are free. For more information or to pre-register, visit www.stepupforsarcoma.com.
Anyone wishing to donate to the effort may make checks payable to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and mail to Step Up for Sarcoma, P.O. Box 537, Manalapan, NJ 07726.