The fluorescent lights flicker softly above the ring, the air is cold and heavy. In one corner, Jessica Wright has her feet firmly planted and her red boxing gloves encompass her battered hands. An invisible, sinister entity waits to make the first strike. But she isn’t nervous. She knows this enemy well.
Jessica started her medical journey with London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) when she contracted meningitis at just over three months old. On her fifth birthday, she underwent brain surgery to treat hydrocephalus, a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. When she was seven years old, the seizures started. At 10 years old, she received radiation to treat a brain tumour.
Years later, Jessica knew something was wrong when she found herself vomiting at the smell of popcorn. She was then diagnosed with clear cell odontogenic carcinoma (CCOC) in her jaw and the cancer eventually spread to her thyroid. After having her thyroid removed along with 32 lymph nodes, doctors thought she was out of the woods. However, a follow-up appointment found a concerning shadow on her lungs. While everyone hoped it was merely scar tissue, the biopsy revealed something truly unprecedented— an extremely rare case of CCOC found in the lungs.
Due to Jessica’s complicated situation, she was given only one option: experimental radiation treatment at the Gerald C. Baines Centre for Translational Cancer Research (Baines Centre). There she met Dr. Pencilla Lang, a Radiation Oncologist who would help tailor the radiation plan to Jessica’s unique case.
“There are no trials or research projects anywhere else in the world for this specific cancer,” Jessica says. “If it wasn’t for the Baines Centre at LHSC, I would not be here today.”
Last October, Jessica became the first patient to receive radiation for CCOC in the lungs and her treatment was a resounding success. The nodules shrunk significantly, paving the way for future patients to receive radiation for this type of cancer. Jessica is committed to increasing awareness of the life-changing research occurring at the Baines Centre. She hopes her advocacy will improve outcomes for people like herself who are faced with no other recourse.
“Donor funding is extremely important because I could not have received the experimental radiation without it,” Jessica exclaims. “I can now experience life the way I've dreamed about since I was a kid.”
With less time now spent in the hospital, Jessica enjoys exploring her passion for photography and makes sure to cherish every moment she can with her nieces. She is also dedicated to helping other people with similar experiences by running a support group for adult survivors of childhood cancer.
Today she is 39 years old and wears her age proudly.
“It’s a badge of honour to get old,” she says. “Each day is a gift. Tomorrow is never guaranteed.”
Jessica never stashes her boxing gloves too far. She is always ready to step back in the ring and face whatever life may throw at her. She knows with every round fought, every shot taken or dodged, she comes back stronger, more resilient and more determined to survive.