In recognition of Buck Cancer Week at Boise State, we introduce you to some of the faculty, staff, students and alumni who have been greatly impacted by cancer. From stories of personal courage to updates on cutting-edge research, this series shows the resilience and determination of Bronco Nation.
By Becca Burke
Life can change in a moment in ways we could never have imagined. This was true in 2015 for Boise State student Gina Persichini. After receiving her master’s in library science, Persichini took a break from academia before deciding to return to college. She had just completed her first semester at Boise State in the Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning program when she learned she had Ewing sarcoma, a diagnosis that put a pause on her life.
“I loved being a student again, and I was excited at how the additional education would support my career,” Persichini said, “I remember distinctly the day I cancelled everything. Upon scheduling the surgery and considering the possible outcomes, I knew I couldn’t manage the schedule. In one day I cancelled travel I had planned for work, professional meetings for a board I worked on, and all my classes for that semester. The diagnosis was grim, but I couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to return to the amazing activities I was involved in, so I always said things were just on hold.”
Ewing sarcoma, a type of cancer cell that develops in bone and soft tissue, is typically diagnosed in adolescents and young adults. Persichini was an atypical case.
“The initial lab results were inconclusive,” she said. “The results pointed toward Ewing sarcoma, but it seemed an unlikely conclusion because of my age, 45 at the time.” However, after her results were sent to a specialist in Boston, the diagnosis was confirmed
And that was just the beginning; the real battle came with treatment. Immediately after her diagnosis, Persichini had surgery to remove the tumor, and then underwent 13 months of chemotherapy treatments to ensure elimination of any remaining cancer cells. Now, six months after stopping chemotherapy treatments, Persichini is still recovering.
“I used to tell people that I didn’t have cancer, I had chemo, and as tough as it was, I knew the whole time that it could be worse.”
While the diagnosis and treatment have been challenging for Persichini, for her it was also a time of joy. Persichini was able to find the humor in the treatments, the side-effects, and the side-effects of the treatments side-effects. With her supportive partner and family by her side Persichini was able to persevere.
“I want people to know that the experience certainly had its miserable moments, but I remember so much of it as being filled with love and smiles and laughter,” Persichini said.
Experiencing her diagnosis and treatment reaffirmed for Persichini the importance of learning and research. As an adult diagnosed with a cancer typically seen in young adolescents, Persichini learned firsthand how much researchers and the medical community don’t know about cancer, and also how difficult the jobs of those who treat cancer patients are.
“Research is so important. It’s discouraging to find out that with all the advances in medicine, there are still many cancers that we know nothing about or know very little about,” Persichini explained. “We need funding to know how to deal with cancer, treat it and prevent it. And, until we achieve prevention, we need to also support the individuals that choose to care for the people who are diagnosed.”
As Persichini begins to pick up where her life left off, she’s looking to the future and the plans she’s made to do the most important thing.
“Living, that’s the bottom line. I knew during treatment, and I know now, I want to live and I intend to do whatever is in my power to do so.”