A man with stage-4 cancer was told he wouldn't live to see his kids grow up. A rare surgery might give him a chance.
- Anthony Di Laura was diagnosed with stage-four
cancerfour months before the birth of his first child.
- He chose not to freeze his sperm but conceived another baby during his treatment.
In September 2020, Anthony Di Laura and his pregnant wife, Jackie Cucullo, were told that Di Laura had a rare form of cancer and needed radical
The doctors gave the couple a few days to decide whether they wanted to freeze Di Laura's sperm in case they wanted to have more kids in the future.
"Our heads were spinning, our first baby was due in four months, and we knew it would cost thousands of dollars for the storage of Anthony's sperm," Cucullo told Insider.
"So we just said, 'We're thankful for the child we're having,'" she said.
Di Laura, whose disease is known as pseudomyoxma peritonei, underwent what Cucullo described as "the mother of all operations" to treat the slow-growing tumor that had developed in his appendix and spread to his abdomen.
Di Laura was determined to be at the birth of his first child
The 35-year-old father-to-be had his appendix and parts of his stomach removed before starting months of
"I went from the happiest time of my life to the most tragic time of my life," Cucullo said of the high of being pregnant to the despair of Di Laura's diagnosis.
Despite the side effects of his treatment, Di Laura was able to attend the birth of their son, JP, on January 1, 2021. "We knew the future was going to be tough, but we were delighted to be a family of three," Cucullo said.
She said her husband is a "hands-on dad" who battled his exhaustion to help look after JP, often staying awake during the night to feed and change him.
Sadly, Di Laura's initial round of treatment didn't work, and the cancer became worse. In August, 2021, the new parents traveled with their then-7-month-old baby to Baltimore, where a specialist operated on Di Laura again.
Cucullo told Insider that the doctor halted the procedure an hour after he'd started. "He opened him and closed him, saying that Anthony's disease was too extensive," Cucullo said. She said she "collapsed" when she heard about the setback. "You can imagine the defeat we felt."
Cucullo said the cancer had "hardened like cement" on Di Laura's intestines and the doctor believed that he was "inoperable."
Against all odds, the pair naturally conceived a second baby
But the couple, who've been married since 2016, found another physician, this time in Pittsburgh, who agreed to operate on Di Laura. The surgery took place in October 2021, but it was again aborted because of the severity of the cancer.
Unbeknownst to them, the couple had naturally become pregnant for a second time. The baby was conceived while Di Laura was finishing up his seventh month of chemotherapy. "My doctor said the chances of this happening were slim to none," Cucullo said. "There's nothing viable left after strong chemo."
She said they found out a few weeks before Thanksgiving in 2021. "It was 100% a miracle, because there was no way I could have expected it," Cucullo said. But, she said, the pair was anxious because of Di Laura's condition.
"It was a very different feeling from when I found out I was pregnant with my son," Cucullo, who's a teacher, said. "We already knew we'd have to sell our home because we couldn't pay the bills. I thought, 'How am I going to bring in our one salary, take care of my husband, and raise two children?'"
The unborn baby sparked a sense of hope, though. Cucullo said that despite his surprise, Di Laura said, "It's just another reason for us to fight.'"
Medical staff urged Di Laura to film videos so his children could learn about their dad after he'd died
In February 2022, when Cucullo was around five months' pregnant, Di Laura was taken to the hospital, and doctors were the most pessimistic they'd ever been. "They started talking about hospice palliative care," Cucullo said. Oncologists told them that Di Laura had "weeks to a few months at most" while taking medication to "be comfortable."
"They gave us a bunch of suggestions on how to keep his legacy," Cucullo said. "They told us we needed to do videos for our children and prepare photo albums."
But they refused to give up. "We had a moment of fear, shock, devastation, and crying," Cucullo said. "Then we turned to them and said, 'We're not accepting your answer.''"
Di Laura has been in the hospital twice since then, but he is currently resting at home. He is fed through a tube — a process that Cucullo manages — and has been significantly weakened by the cancer.
He was too sick to attend the birth of his daughter, Lila Rae, now just 2 weeks old, but was thrilled to meet her on FaceTime a few minutes after she arrived.
"Anthony was overjoyed when we brought her home," Cucullo said, adding that JP, now 18 months, has been an adoring older brother.
Now the family is pinning their hopes on a groundbreaking multi-organ transplant surgery that was performed in the US only once before, in September 2021. The operation, by Dr. Anil Vaidya, a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, would replace Di Laura's stomach, small and large intestine, colon, gallbladder, and spleen.
Di Laura has made his third and final appeal against his insurance company, which is refusing to cover the lifesaving surgery. In the meantime, relatives have launched a GoFundMe to help finance some of the expenses. It has raised $111,000 of its $250,000 goal so far.
"The Cleveland Clinic has given Anthony a newfound desire for life," Cucullo said. "He has become invested through the hopefulness and positive attitude of the team, and I saw that spark back in him."
Di Laura told Insider by text, "Each morning I thank God for my wife, who holds our life together, literally, as she keeps me and our two beautiful babies alive."
The dad went on, "This is what true love looks like — in sickness and in
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