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Nick Maraini: Beating Head and Neck Cancer and Starting a New Career

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“I was floored by my diagnosis. I don’t smoke, chew tobacco, or drink excessively, and I was only 33 years old.”

— Nick Maraini

I am a retired police officer from Delaware County. I honorably retired after someone threw a Molotov cocktail at me during service of an arrest warrant, and I had third degree burns all over the left side of my body. After this incident, I received a scholarship to attend law school.

I was looking forward to starting this new chapter of my life and becoming a lawyer. However, in 2018, during my first year of law school, I noticed a little white patch on the back of my tongue. When I mentioned it to my primary care physician, he diagnosed it as thrush. However, it didn’t go away, and after bringing it up again to my doctor two more times, I decided to get a second opinion from my dentist.

At that point, the patch had changed and was an angry-looking white spot. My dentist was immediately alarmed by its appearance and sent me for a biopsy. The test revealed that I had squamous cell carcinoma—a type of head and neck cancer.

Shocking Diagnosis

I was floored by my diagnosis. I don’t smoke, chew tobacco, or drink excessively, and I was only 33 years old! No one in my family had ever experienced anything like this.

Luckily, I was referred to a head and neck surgeon at Fox Chase Cancer Center. At first, I wasn’t scared of my diagnosis—I thought the cancer was something that could be easily removed from the surface. However, after doing some research and meeting my Fox Chase doctor, I became increasingly concerned. I learned that if the cancer had spread, it could have gone from my tongue to my lymph nodes and then directly to my lungs. When I heard this, I passed out in the exam room!

Thankfully, through further evaluation, I found out that the cancer had been caught before it spread to my lymph nodes.

Treatment and Recovery

Nick’s fiancé and son were two of his greatest supporters during his cancer treatment.Nick’s fiancé and son were two of his greatest supporters during his cancer treatment.

The next step involved removing the cancer from my tongue, and I decided to have the lymph nodes in the area removed as well. The operation was a success, and the tumor on my tongue was removed with clear margins.

Although my surgery went very well, my recovery was a little more difficult. Waking up with a tube down my throat was hard, and I had to re-learn how to swallow and speak with part of my tongue gone. To help my recovery (specifically my swallowing), my care team fashioned a type of chin strap for me out of foam and Velcro. This helped a lot, and I still use it about three times a week.

I was an inpatient at Fox Chase for a few days longer than expected, but I didn’t mind because the nurses were great and had wonderful bedside manners. After I returned home, I continued to go back to Fox Chase for speech therapy, which really helped me get back to normal.

A Well-Oiled Machine

Following my surgery, I went to another hospital for radiation treatments before being told I was cancer free. I look back on my time at Fox Chase fondly; my care team worked like a well-oiled machine!

During my cancer treatment, I had a lot on my plate. The first year of law school is the toughest, and I also had to keep my grades up to stay eligible for my scholarship. I didn’t have time to wait around, and during every visit to Fox Chase, I was seen promptly and had all of my appointments lined up. If I ever needed to speak to my care team, they made themselves available and I never had to track anyone down. It really took a weight off of my shoulders.

The Importance of Second Opinions

Now finished treatment, Nick loves hiking and traveling.Now finished treatment, Nick loves hiking and traveling.

I am now in my last year of law school and clerking for a civil judge. After so many years as a police officer in a high-pressure job, I am looking forward to a career outside of the criminal justice system.

Outside of work and school, I love spending time with my seven-year-old son, my fiancé, and our two dogs. I also enjoy golfing, learning about history, and traveling. Before the pandemic, my fiancé and I went on trips to Cuba, Nicaragua, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico, and we look forward to traveling more together in the future. Our goal is to head back to Colombia this spring to do some volunteer humanitarian work!

I am so thankful that my cancer was diagnosed before it spread. I urge anyone who doesn’t feel listened to by a professional to get a second opinion, especially if you know something is off with your body. I was misdiagnosed three times before I went elsewhere, and I am so glad I sought another opinion and ended up at Fox Chase.

Learn more about head and neck cancer treatment at Fox Chase

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