Over the course of 2020, Joe went from being a perfectly healthy and active priest in his mid-30s, with no prior medical history, to experiencing severe bouts of abdominal pain in March and April, which eventually led to a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis in June, and the removal of a very inflamed gallbladder in July. While his pain subsided, and Joe's colitis became manageable with medication, further inspection of his bile ducts after surgery revealed some abnormalities. After several scans and tests, and two additional surgical procedures, Joe was finally diagnosed in January 2021 with very early Stage I bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma).
Joe's particular form of cancer is caused by a rare autoimmune disease of the liver, called primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), which sometimes occurs in people who have ulcerative colitis. No one knows what causes PSC, but it is thought to be genetic. Typically it is not detected until a person is in their late 40s or 50s, and while PSC can eventually lead to cancer, cirrhosis, and other liver and bile duct problems, it is extremely rare for cancer to develop this early at the very onset of PSC, and it is even MORE rare for any bile duct cancer to be detected at such an early stage, with no visible tumor or mass and prior to any spread. PSC also normally shows up first in the liver, but as of right now, Joe's liver remains perfectly healthy. Joe's case is therefore exceedingly rare on a number of levels.
As of right now, all of these factors actually work in Joe's favor, since there is a path for treatment that could conceivably cure Joe of the PSC (which is often not an option for people with this disease). Unfortunately, this will require a full liver transplant in addition to chemo and radiation. Even though Joe's liver is healthy right now, there is no other way to prevent the PSC from progressing or to ensure that the bile duct cancer does not return. We have an amazing interdisciplinary team of research doctors at Duke Hospital who have taken on Joe's case, and we are fortunate that Duke just so happens to be one of the top 3 hospitals in the country for dealing with PSC-related treatments and transplants. While Joe's path to healing and recovery will be long, the doctors are very confident based on what they are seeing right now that he will come out the other side of all this.
We've got a tough road ahead of us, but as always, we lean on the One who promises that "all manner of things shall be well." Please click "Follow" if you would like to receive the latest updates on Joe's condition (you can customize what kinds of notifications you will receive and how often you want to receive them). Also please be sure to click on the "Ways to Help" tab to find out how you can support us during this time. And always feel free to leave a note for Joe in the "Well Wishes" section. As you know, Joe is very much a "people person," so hearing from you will mean a lot to him!!
Thank you for stopping by our page! We are so grateful to all of our family and friends for your prayers, love, and support. God bless you all!