Joseph and Barbara Italiano have always loved taking walks. When Joseph's salivary gland cancer came back a second time, everything changed.
Joseph told Ivanhoe, "I've got to admit for the first day or so I was saying to myself I'm not going to do anything. It's just a waste of time."
Then he saw two of his grandchildren playing and changed his mind.
"I said, I just can't not do something. So I called them back and said I will do the chemo and that's when we went a little bit further and found out about this," Joseph explained.
For Joseph, the key to successful treatment may lie in personalized diagnostics.
Marcia Brose, MD, PhD, Director of the Center for Rare Cancers and Personalized Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania told Ivanhoe, "For patients it's exciting because if they have finished the standard therapies and there are no other possibilities for them they can have their tumor tested."
Joseph did just that, and found out that his tumor had a mutation that made him a candidate for what's called a "targeted therapy."
Dr. Brose said, "It really is the possibility of one, really personalizing it to the patient's tumor and two, giving them a therapy they wouldn't otherwise have- and that's hope."
Joseph told Ivanhoe, "Ok, we have a possibility here. I'm not going to say that this is a guarantee that it's taken care of, but it's longevity. The longer I can stick around the better I think all of us feel."
And now the Italianos are confident they will enjoy many more walks together.
Since launching in 2013, Penn's Center for Personalized Diagnostics has performed more than 4,000 tests on patients with a wide range of cancers. Penn's center is one of just a handful of such programs in the United States focusing on DNA sequencing to individualize treatment. Doctors say that Joe's last scan shows his cancer has stabilized, which indicates that the treatment is working at this point.