CORNELIUS, NC (WBTV) - Jessica Boesmiller is a beautiful 37-year-old mom, married to a Charlotte/Cornelius firefighter, working as a healthy living director at the Lake Norman YMCA, about to give birth to twins.
She also just had her right eye removed because half of it was filled with cancer.
It's the same "rare" cancer, Ocular Melanoma, that keeps hitting people near and around Huntersville. Many claim the area is a "cancer cluster". More on that in a minute.
But first, Jessica's hard-to-believe story. She and Mark already have two children (Caleb is 9 and Connor is 7) and their soon-to-greet-the-world twins (already named Mason and Piper) are scheduled to be delivered Friday, December 22nd. Next week. Countdown on.
One week later, December 29th, Jessica is scheduled to go to Duke for CT and MRI scans.
"This journey began last year," Mark told me. "We decided then to try for one more child. Earlier this year we found out we were pregnant - with twins! Because of Jessica's age and the fact it's high-risk, we were concerned with every pain. We were in touch with every unusual feeling Jessica experienced. After week 24, a critical milestone, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Things kept progressing well. We kept getting excited. Then… out of nowhere… it's hard to understand. We just never thought of all the things to worry about, we'd have to deal with eye cancer."
Jessica first noticed her own blurry vision November 3rd. Few days later she and Mark went to the ophthalmologist. It was there they heard the doctor say the words, "Ocular Melanoma".
"We were devastated, but decided – rather quickly – to keep our faith and fight," Mark said.
A week later an eye cancer specialist discovered the tumor was large, taking up half the eye. On November 30th, three weeks after her diagnosis and 34 weeks pregnant, Jessica surgically had her eye removed.
She has since been in recovery, back and forth to Duke.
So far everything seems good.
Ocular Melanoma is like a freckle or mole, turned cancerous, on the inside of the eye. Google will tell you it's rare, that only six people in every million get it, which is why the Huntersville area is such a phenomenon.
"We're only approximately 56,000 people here," Mark said. "But by my count we've had about 20 cases in a 10-15 mile radius. We live just over the border of Huntersville, in Cornelius."
I've looked into the Ocular Melanoma Foundation for facts (here's one website with info >> https://tinyurl.com/OMFBMolly). Summary of what I've found is this: Ocular Melanoma doesn't metastasize through lymph nodes like most cancers. It spreads through the blood, primarily ending up in the liver but also the lungs and brain. That's why, Mark says, Jessica needed to get scans to see if her cancer had spread before it was removed. Problem is... she can't get scanned while pregnant so they have to wait until the babies are born.
"The Ocular Melanoma Foundation site says 50% of patients have had this type of cancer metastasized, but our doctors are remaining positive and hopeful along side us," Mark said. "Jessica's was caught early. Only 5% of cases caught early like Jessica's have had it metastasize. For obvious reasons, we're anxious to get the scans."
The elephant in the room is also that if the cancer metastasized, there is no proven treatment. Jessica would have to go to clinical trials. They'd most likely be in Philadelphia, far from her four kids.
So, what can all of us do to help? Besides sharing this and spreading the word about Ocular Melanoma – which Mark said their family wants for awareness sake – he wants someone to take ACTION and find out why this cancer has been developing at such a high rate in their area.
And in the meantime, Jessica is just preparing for next week and doing one day at a time. Today, she said, was a good day. No medicine needed. She was even able to go to church.
"Our community has been wonderful," Mark said. "We never asked for assistance, but everyone is coming out."
A co-worker at the Charlotte Fire Department set up a Go Fund Me. (I can't share individual fundraising links here, but anyone can feel free to post below in comments.) It has close to $28,000 as I write this. Also, a friend of Jessica's in Maryland set up a meal train where local friends signed up to deliver dinners. Other firefighters had a fundraiser over the weekend at Tropicana Sports Bar.
And might I personally add, a half-dozen people have reached out to me about Jessica, to make sure we know she's special.
"They are loved," wrote Cornelius Fire Department Captain EJ McCormack. "When something happens to one of our brothers, it happens to all of us."
In the midst of all this, Mark and Jessica are also trying to keep up with a Facebook page. Go to Updates on Jessica.
We'll have more later this week on WBTV News. But for now, thoughts to you, Jessica. Thank you for sending so many photos from your journey the last few weeks.