2007 was a banner year for Connexus Technology and its owners, Lawrence James and Christopher Holland. Their company was awarded the Innovative Business of the Year Excellence Award by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Lawrence was planning to carry the excitement into 2008 by proposing to his girlfriend, Tia McNair. However, a diagnosis of a rare cancer put a temporary stop to his plans. With his faith, and the doctors at Fox Chase Cancer Center on his side, Lawrence put up a strong fight and won his battle with cancer.
In June 2008, during a Malaysian dinner date just one week prior to his planned wedding proposal, Lawrence began to feel waves of pressure rushing to his head; his eyes began to blur and he was off balance. Thinking that the waves of pressure were a reaction to the spicy fare, Lawrence and Tia ended their dinner quickly. After leaving the restaurant, Lawrence thought he was feeling better, so they decided to go to a Christian open mic café in Philadelphia. Not long after stepping up on stage, Lawrence noticed his symptoms were back and decided it was time for them to go home.
Not feeling himself, Lawrence used the Internet to self-diagnose his symptoms.
When Lawrence woke the next day and still didn't feel well, he started to search the Internet to see what could be causing his symptoms. Since he had been bitten by a deer tick while camping the previous weekend, he thought it might be possible that he had come down with Lyme disease. His mom and Tia convinced him to visit the emergency room, so he went to one of the Philadelphia area hospitals and upon arriving was informed that he'd have a 5-hour wait.
"The doctors ran lots of tests but could not find an answer."
"That was unacceptable to us," said Lawrence, who decided to try another hospital in the community rather than wait 5 hours for a diagnosis. Eventually, after being connected to various tubes for a long period of time, Lawrence got hungry and asked Tia to get him a sandwich. "Every time I took a bite, my blood pressure and heart rate skyrocketed." The doctors ordered a chest x-ray, which later changed the course of Lawrence's life.
Connecting his community
Lawrence has always been a strong believer in the power of prayer. Through his experience, and with the resources of his company, Lawrence created a website called PrayerConnexus.com, designed to connect people in need of prayer with others around the world who "have a heart to pray." To date, thousands of people around the world have connected through this site.
"He told us there was a mass in my chest . . . and that there was nothing he could do."
"When the doctor shared the results, he had a scared and puzzled look on his face," Lawrence recalled. "He told us there was a mass in my chest about the size of softball and that there was nothing he could do for me, so he admitted me to the hospital where they planned to do a biopsy on the mediastinal mass."
"Tia and I broke down and cried," admitted Lawrence, who prayed and cried the remainder of that night.
The marriage proposal that could not wait.
While Lawrence was preparing for his biopsy, he asked his mother to stop by his apartment to pick up a small box which contained the engagement ring he had planned to give to Tia the following weekend. The next morning, just minutes before surgery, Lawrence proposed to Tia and she said yes!
After getting the answer he hoped for from Tia, Lawrence and his family waited for his diagnosis, which initially turned out to be thymoma - a rare tumor of the thymus gland, which is a small organ that lies under the breastbone and is part of the immune system. In addition, Lawrence learned he had Superior Vena Cava (SVC) Syndrome, which was the result of a tumor preventing adequate blood flow between the head and body.
Lawrence was referred to Fox Chase Cancer Center, where he received palliative treatment for his symptoms associated with SVC syndrome. Next, medical oncologist Ranee Mehra, MD, was consulted regarding his thymoma diagnosis. When patients arrive to Fox Chase who were diagnosed elsewhere, their doctors often order further testing to confirm the diagnosis; make a new, more accurate, diagnosis or re-stage the tumor. Given Lawrence's age and the location of the tumor, and the differential diagnosis of mediastinal tumors, she was suspicious that it was actually a germ cell tumor.
Dr. Mehra, who is known for being thorough, worked with Fox Chase pathologists, to conduct further testing which confirmed that it was in fact a germ cell tumor. "The treatment for thymomas and germ cell tumors are very different, so Lawrence was fortunate to come to Fox Chase for a second opinion," explained Dr. Mehra.
Fox Chase doctors provided an accurate diagnosis - a rare germ cell tumor.
Germ cell tumors grow in the cells located in the reproductive system. After receiving an accurate diagnosis, Lawrence was referred to medical oncologist Yu-Ning Wong, MD, who prescribed his course of chemotherapy. "Dr. Wong explained everything to us, which was very helpful," explained Lawrence. Using his laptop and mobile phone, Lawrence continued to work from his hospital bed. He was discharged quickly and continued treatment as an outpatient.
"One of the things I loved about Fox Chase was that everything you needed was in one place."
"At Fox Chase, no time was lost going from test to test because everything was done in one place and so quickly." said Lawrence. "They almost seemed to do things faster than I would have even expected."
Over the next few months Lawrence spent a lot of time in the infusion room at Fox Chase. "The doctors at Fox Chase were all very knowledgeable, intelligent and friendly," shared Lawrence, who prayed with Tia every day. "I felt as though I was at the right place." Finally in October, just weeks before their wedding, he was ready for surgery.
Walter Scott, MD, a thoracic surgeon who specializes in removing tumors located in precarious or difficult-to-reach areas, was called on for the surgery. During the procedure, Dr. Scott removed the tumor and a small piece of the lung where a nodule had also developed.
"I am grateful to Dr. Scott for saving my life."
Lawrence recalled that Dr. Scott was unsure if he could remove the tumor because it was in a dangerous place, but he decided to take another look. "He tried a different approach that worked! He was able to cut it and pull it out in pieces from my chest." After several days in the hospital, Lawrence was sent home to recover, where his mother helped to care for him.
The following week, Lawrence received a call from Dr. Wong's fellow stating that there were no living cancer cells in his body and that he was cancer free. "My mother and I cried and praised God for a good hour and then did it some more."
Lawrence and Tia had hopes of starting a family someday. Following chemotherapy treatment, they sought the medical advice of a fertility specialist who told them the only way to conceive was through in vitro fertilization. "We put our faith in God and decided not to pursue that path," shared Lawrence. In 2010, one year after their initial fertility testing, they saw another specialist. This doctor said Lawrence was fine and results from the most recent test were vastly different from his first test. Within four months, the couple was pregnant and on October 2, 2011, Tia gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Josiah (meaning whom God heals, God cures).
Today, Lawrence is proud to add "dad" to his titles of "husband" and "survivor."