Jeremy Costa survives rare cancer, keeps on track
KINGSTON, R.I. — December 11, 2001 — University of Rhode Island student Jeremy Costa of Lincoln is part of medical history. Last summer instead of doing a prized internship in New Jersey as he had planned, the 20-year-old battled a rare form of cancer. Called dermatosibrosarcoma protuberans, the cancer settles into the muscle tissue. Only five cases have been documented in the world. Usually found in the trunk of the body, Costa’s cancer was in his scalp. It’s the first time, to Costa’s knowledge, that dermatosibrosarcoma protuberans appeared there. A team of 27 doctors came to Rhode Island to review and document his unique case.
“It’s sort of like winning the lottery,” says Costa, not unaware of the irony.
The URI student mentioned the lump on his head to his mother when he went home for Thanksgiving a year ago. When the lump was still there at Christmas, Denise Costa sent her son off to the doctor.
A dermatologist removed what he deemed a cyst last February. As a standard procedure, the doctor sent the sample out for pathology testing.
Five operations followed. Doctors had to screw a steel plate into Costa’s head, take a muscle from his back to use to cover exposed bone on his head, a vein from his leg for blood circulation, and a skin graft from his thigh to cover his ravaged head.
His parents, Denise and Lawrence, and sister Marisa were his biggest cheerleaders during his ordeal. And he was moved by the kindness from the community, neighbors, friends, businesses, and schools who gave encouragement and often held fundraisers to help with the skyrocketing medical bills.
Since his return this fall, Costa hasn’t missed a day of school and his ordeal hasn’t effected his grades. “If anything, I’m trying harder this semester,” says the accounting and political science major. “I can’t let it be an excuse for me. I have to keep that standard for myself or I won’t get into a good law school.”
Pausing, Costa adds with a grin: “If my high school teachers could only hear me now. They wouldn’t believe it. I’m like two different people. I didn’t really try in high school, but I realized when I came to URI that with some effort I could actually do well,” says the straight-A student.
To earn much needed money, Costa works 15 hours for URI’s Facilities Services helping with statistical work and data entry.
Every afternoon he is a man on the run. He’s trying to reclaim a position on the University’s track team. “I’m not quite there yet,” he says. “I have to earn my spot back, which isn’t easy, but I’ll appreciate it that much more.”
Costa, an All-State runner in high school, says running is part of who he is. “It’s hard not to do it,” he says.
Back on track and focused on his studies, Costa has put his ordeal nearly behind him. He has to check in with his oncologist every three months for the next five years to make sure the cancer doesn’t return. This summer, Costa will be back on the operating table to get his scalp stretched so that existing hair can be spread across his head. In the meantime he has relied on creative headgear, including a large collection of hats and bandanas.
The URI student speaks freely of his brush with cancer with his friends. “We can joke about it. One friend even calls me baldy.”
The worst, he says, is over. “I don’t have a dark outlook on life,” he says. “I’ve experienced how kind people can be. I’ve seen so much generosity.
“Many of my classmates are worried since the events of September 11. I’m not. I hope to study in Italy next year and I’m not afraid to fly,” he says with a soft smile. “I’m really into probability now. The odds are definitely in my favor. I mean, what are the chances of something happening to me again?”
For Information: Jan Wenzel, 874-2116