Christmas time is a time for togetherness, family and sometimes romance. In this instance it was also a time for courage.
Proposing to a future wife is one of the biggest steps for any man to do in his lifetime. It takes courage, and sometimes a little help from a little special someone both significant others share.
Eric Bascelli popped the question, with the help of his 19-month old daughter Ella, to his now fiancée, Jen. Eric and his family were decorating their Christmas tree and Jen asked if that was the last of their special ornaments from Palm Beach that they get every year. “There’s one left,” Eric said, and he got down on one knee and handed her a ring on a hook and asked Jen to marry him.
Bascelli is mechanical shop forman with Cabrini College’s facilities department.
Just two days later, Eric’s courage was in question again. This time it was in the form of life-threatening news.
Eric was diagnosed with stage-three esophageal cancer at the age of 28.
Stage-three esophageal cancer is a rare form of esophageal cancer that at stage three it has progressed through the wall of the esophagus and local lymph nodes [organ of the immune system that filters or traps foreign particles and is important for the immune system to function properly] to surrounding tissues. Other organs are not affected at this stage, but 20 to 30 percent of patients who undergo chemotherapy and radiation are likely to survive three to five years.
“I really didn’t know how to tell people I had cancer,” Eric said. “It was hard telling people.”
“I never really got sick. I exercised and I ate well,” Eric said. “I tried to lead a healthy life, and cancer was the last thing that would ever cross my mind.”
Eric explained the initial reason he went to the doctor was because he was having a hard time swallowing. “I wasn’t sure what it was, I would choke and I thought it was the type of foods I was eating at first,” Eric said.
Eric describes the pain as a sharp pain in his stomach.
Not questioning his situation, Eric has accepted the biggest challenge of his life. “I try not to let it bother me,” Eric said. “It’s like my buddy says, everyone’s has to deal with adversity, and I’m just trying to get through it.”
Eric has already begun receiving treatment at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman Center, in the form of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. “The first 6 weeks were rough,” Eric said, “in the hospital 5 days a week for treatment and having a chemotherapy pouch with me at all times.”
“I don’t think I will eat another can of soup ever again,” Eric said. “People were amazing, dropping things off, left and right, but that’s all I could eat.” Eric ate a lot of soup pasta and Muscle Milk to get the nutrients and protein that his body needed. Eric actually gained a type of sponsorship with Cytosport after he wrote an email thanking them about their product and how much it has helped him. They sent him cases of the product to help him financially.
Just three weeks in to treatment, Eric developed a severe blood clot in his jugular vein about the side of a golf ball. Doctors said it was the largest one they have ever seen in a jugular. “It was really the hardest part of the treatment,” Eric said. “It was the most pain I’ve ever been in and the drugs made me feel terrible and messed with my emotions.”
In addition, one day every other week Eric would get a three hour intensive treatment of an entire pouch of chemotherapy. “I couldn’t even do anything for the next few days after treatment,” Eric said. “I was so weak I could barely speak.”
“It was a tough stretch for me,” Eric said.
With radiation therapy, it stays in your system for a long time and now Eric is waiting testing that is his pre-operation exam of the tumor on March 26th. In addition, there is a plan for an Ivor-Lewis Esophagectomy surgical procedure that is scheduled for April 1st. An Ivor-Lewis Esophagectomy entails “removal of the esophagus, nearby lymph nodes, and sometimes a portion of the stomach. Removal of the esophagus requires reconnecting the remaining part of the esophagus to the stomach to allow swallowing and the continuing passage of food.”
“They’re taking some of my stomach which will make it smaller,” Eric said. “I used to get the biggest steak, but after the surgery I’m going to be the guy getting the petite filet.”
Things are looking good for Eric. The doctors have told him things look positive. He has even made it to the gym a few times to walk and lift some light weights.
Eric wants his experience with cancer to not be a burden on his family financially, but also use his experience as a way to open people’s eyes to the worldwide struggle of people with esophageal cancer.
“It seems like every day someone does something for us and it is amazing and took our financial worries away,” Eric said. “It shows how great people are and how much people care friends, family, and even strangers.”
“I have known Eric for three years and he is always a pleasure to work with,” said Dawn Barnett. “He is always on time and dependable, his work ethic was unmatched. He was also just promoted to Mechanical Shop Foreman.”
Replacing a hot water heater, checking a thermostat or helping his co-workers in the workshop, Eric did it all as the Mechanical Shop Foreman in the facilities department, here at Cabrini College.
Eric is utilizing his sick days that he has accumulated over his time working at Cabrini, but once that runs out he will only receive disability, which is a small percentage of his pay. “Many of his co-workers have put up their sick days to help Eric financially while he is unable to work,” Barnett said.
“Cabrini has been wonderful, just being understanding and promising me the job when I come back,” Eric said. Eric has been unable to work since December and is told he is projected that he will not be back working until August.
Eric plans to combine his favorite sport to play, golf, and fund raising into one with plans of starting his own charity to spread awareness. He plans on starting the “Pennies for Yards Foundation” after he has recovered from his surgery. Pennies for Yards Foundation is a golf outing with no golf carts, and you donate a penny for every yard that you walk playing golf.
“Every day someone reached out,” Eric said, “it helped make everyday a little bit easier.”
Eric has recently been offered an all expense paid trip to Disney World for him and his family courtesy of The Pete’s Sake Foundation. The foundation rewards families between the ages of 24-50 and in the tri-state area (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Delaware) the trip with everything included as well as a robe, journals, camera and inspirational writings related to the trip. The foundation also provides a DVD memorial of the vacation for the family. Eric and his family are leaving March 13th and are gone until the following Wednesday, March 20th.
“I’m really grateful for everyone that has helped that has helped me,” Eric said. “I am really excited for the trip and the fact that they are sending us there all expense paid, is un-believable.”
“The most important part for me in the mental relief aspect,” Eric said. “When you have cancer you have to explain yourself 20 times a day the same story over and over again. With this trip, I will truly get a break from cancer. Nobody in Florida knows that I have cancer. I will be able to go down and fit in and live a normal life for a week.”
Looking forward, Eric’s family is organizing fund raisers in the local area to help raise money for him, as well as, contribute to the Esophageal Cancer Awareness Association. On Wednesday, March 6th at the Iron Hill Brewery in Media, Pa., 20 percent of your total bill went towards Eric’s cause. The turnout was outstanding and the amount of friends and family that were there, you had to wait in a line just to speak with him.
In addition, on Saturday, April 6th from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. there will be a beef and beer at Saint Keith’s Parish Life Center (Gym) in Springfield, Pa., with proceeds going to Eric and his cause.
People have been donating items to auction off, from houses to gift baskets, the event is going to be a huge help for Eric’s cause.
“It’s so humbling and you don’t know who to thank first,” Eric said. “Our family couldn’t do this without the support from Cabrini, friends and family, they have really made this whole situation a lot easier.”
Eric has recently had time to spend with his fiancée and daughter now that he is feeling better.
“I felt terrible at first because Jen was the predominant parent to Ella in the first few months while I was going through the intensive treatment,” Eric said. “But now that I am feeling better, I can be the father that I wanted to.”
“Team Eric Bascelli” is the term used to describe the team of Eric’s friends, family, and supporters that have a goal of raising $100,000. “Team Eric Bascelli” has currently raised over $20,000 dollars in the short time since Eric has been diagnosed.
Being a part of “Team Eric Bascelli” there is a saying that sums up his courage and strength as he goes through this difficult time in his life:
“Eric WILL beat this,
He WILL live to raise his daughter,
He WILL see his wedding day and spend many years to come with his future bride,
And He WILL inspire others in the process and help raise awareness in the fight against cancer.”