Anthony Christinzie: After Successful Squamous Cell Treatment, a Melanoma Diagnosis

“Words can’t describe the feelings I have for Fox Chase. My treatment there has been so wonderful, so caring, and so comprehensive, I can’t praise them highly enough.”
‐Anthony Christinzie

Twelve years ago, when I was 59 years old, I was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer of the tongue. I had some pain on the left side of my tongue, and I unfortunately ignored it. I thought it would go away. Eventually, I got it looked at and it turned out to be cancer. That’s how I began my journey at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

I was treated by a great surgeon, who is now retired, who specialized in head and neck cancers. I was originally supposed to have surgery in April 2011, but they moved the date up because the cancer was larger than they thought and advancing faster than expected. So they got me in right away.

The surgery lasted 14 hours. They got out as much of the cancer as they could and took out 20 lymph nodes. They also had a plastic surgeon take skin from my wrist to reconstruct the inside of my mouth.

After the surgery, I had to get radiation and chemotherapy. Dr. Thomas Galloway was my radiation oncologist. The side effects of surgery and treatment were devastating, but that’s okay given the outcome. I also lost a substantial amount of weight. I had a feeding tube for a couple of weeks, which was not pleasant.

My swallowing and my speech are a little bit disturbed and salivation is difficult. And because of the radiation, I lost pretty much all my teeth over time. I also lost 20% of my hearing on the left side.

So I have hearing aids, and I also got extensive dental work to reconstruct my teeth. But at my first visit back to the surgeon, he said there was no recurrence of the cancer. That was an amazing day for me. It made my whole world turn around.

Round Two

Well, three years after the squamous cell, I was diagnosed with melanoma. It started with a mole that I’d had on my chest since I was born. It had always been there, but one day I was coming out of the shower and I saw this very irregular circle. Over the next few weeks it got bigger, until it was the size of a quarter, so I went to see Dr. Anthony Santoro, a dermatologist at Fox Chase. He took a biopsy and it was identified as melanoma.

I was very afraid. The first time I had cancer, everything happened so quickly that I didn’t fully realize the depth of the fear that I had because of everything that was going on. With the melanoma I was more afraid because I thought that maybe I wouldn’t be able to overcome it. I did a lot of reading, and what I learned scared me even more. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

This time, I had surgery with Dr. Jeffrey Farma. He was able to get the entire melanoma out, and I didn’t have any chemo or radiation. I was in the hospital for three or four days after surgery, and that was it. I was a little uncomfortable because I had stitches and I couldn’t do anything strenuous for a while—I had to wait to play golf or tennis—but there was no pain.

Eight Years Cancer Free

I’ve been following up with Dr. Farma regularly since the surgery. I would never miss an appointment. Ever. I was just recently released from his care after being cancer free for eight and a half years. Wow. That’s something to celebrate.

Dr. Farma, Dr. Galloway, and Dr. Santoro are all very important people in my life. They are amazing. They actually saved my life, and they gave me quality of life as well.

Words can’t describe the feelings I have for Fox Chase. My treatment there has been so wonderful, so caring, and so comprehensive, I can’t praise them highly enough. There’s a warmth at Fox Chase. I feel amazingly comfortable when I go there because I know I’m in a safe place. Sorry. I get emotional when I talk about it.

Today? Quite honestly, I’m very healthy. I have a lot of energy. Last year, I turned 71 and I feel good. Now that I’m older I don’t play as much tennis, but I just took up pickleball.

Also, we have seven grandchildren, so they keep me busy. I’ve been a counseling psychologist for 41 years, and I’m still practicing, although now I’m doing it part time, just because I like what I do.

I feel very grateful for my life and for Fox Chase.

Learn more about treatment for head and neck cancers and melanoma at Fox Chase Cancer Center.