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Sidelined by Cancer his Senior Year, Teenager Rebounds with Help from BMC

Sidelined by head cancer his senior year, teenager James rebounds with help from BMC.
James Angermeier’s senior year of high school was derailed after
his cancer diagnosis, but BMC Skull Base surgeon Dr. Scharukh Jalisi
helped James get a fresh start in time for college. James (right)
poses with his family during his Make-A-Wish trip to New York City.

Joseph and Glorianne Angermeier stood stricken by their son, James’s, bedside in the local emergency department near their home in Albany, New York. It was every parent’s worst nightmare, just moments earlier a physician had shown them the results of their son’s MRI. A tumor roughly the size of a golf ball had developed on the base of his skull. Their healthy, athletic teenager, who had only complained of a jaw ache just months before, was being admitted to the hospital for a biopsy.

“The radiologist told us ‘James has a massive tumor and it does not look good,’ and he would not elaborate on his statement. When I asked questions, he just kept saying ‘It does not look good,” remembers Joseph Angermeier.

That night James’s family was shaken but remained hopeful; the doctors indicated that the tumor was probably not cancerous. It would be several weeks, however, until they received the final pathology report. In the meantime, Glorianne made arrangements to take James to Boston Medical Center to meet Dr. Scharukh Jalisi, director of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery and Skull Base Surgery. Glorianne and Joseph were impressed with Dr. Jalisi’s reputation as a leading head and neck surgeon who employed delicate surgical and reconstruction techniques to minimize scarring. James’s consult went well, and Dr. Jalisi was confident that he could remove the tumor in its entirety.

Weeks before the scheduled surgery, the pathology report came back with bad news: 17-year-old James had sclerosing rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer. The treatment plan for James changed dramatically with the unexpected diagnosis, and he began a series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments in Albany to stop the spread of the disease. A Varsity athlete, James was sidelined from sports for the rest of his senior year and had to rely on tutors to fulfill his class requirements.

“I was diagnosed about three weeks after Varsity volleyball ended, so I was glad I got to play my senior year,” remembers James. “The hardest part after I was diagnosed, however, was missing out on PE classes and skiing during the winter, which I really enjoy.”

After his treatments were completed, James’s oncologist referred him to a Boston surgeon to remove his tumor. The physician was unsure whether he could remove it and marked a line from James’s forehead to his chin where he would have to make the incision. Extremely discouraged and worried about a disfiguring scar, the Angermeiers returned to Dr. Jalisi for a second opinion.

“Dr. Jalisi was just very optimistic and very positive,” remembers Glorianne. “He was able to look at the big picture and see a kid who had his whole life in front of him. He was very concerned about doing whatever he could to minimize scarring and ensure the best possible quality of life for James.”

James returned to BMC to undergo a 12-hour surgery to remove the tumor. During the procedure, Dr. Jalisi was able to make an incision under James’s chin and completely remove the tumor. Dr. Jalisi and his colleague, Mark Shrime, M.D., attending physician in the Department of Otolaryngology, then reconstructed the area using tissue from James’s left leg instead of his right, in order to preserve James’s dominant right leg for soccer scoring. Today, a year after his ordeal, James is recovering well and was even able to hit the slopes skiing over the winter. He finished his freshman year at SUNY Brockport, pursuing a degree in physical education.

“The highlight of this entire ordeal for James was meeting Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees on his Make-A-Wish trip. But the highlight for Glorianne and me was meeting Dr. Jalisi. His knowledge, confidence and bedside manner were outstanding. He gave us hope when others talked of gloom and doom. We are blessed to have found Dr. Jalisi,” says Joseph.