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Patricia Cantwell - Patient Story

"I felt extra confident knowing that both Dr. Topham and Dr. Ridge were in the operating room with me."

— Patricia Cantwell, Sarcoma Patient

I was 33 years old when I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma of the jaw. Before the diagnosis, I had experienced pain in my mouth and had had my wisdom teeth extracted to get rid of the pain, but the throbbing discomfort persisted. My oral surgeon detected a bone fragment on an X-ray and took a biopsy for further evaluation. Six weeks later, the diagnosis was made. I had sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that affected the bone in my jaw.

The oral surgeon referred me to Dr. John A. Ridge, chief of head and neck surgery at Fox Chase Cancer Center, who recommended a course of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor before surgery. He was honest and direct, yet comforting and reassuring. I was scared, but I was confident he could help me.

My medical oncologist at Fox Chase, Dr. Margaret von Mehren, started me on four cycles of chemotherapy. After the first two treatments, the tumor increased in size, and Dr. Mehren changed the therapy. Unfortunately, there was less dead tissue in my tumor than the doctors had hoped for by the time I was scheduled for surgery. Dr. von Mehren was great to work with, and we were both disappointed the chemotherapy regimen had not been more successful.

Dr. Neal Topham, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Fox Chase, joined my surgical team for the 10-hour procedure in August 2007. Dr. Ridge removed most of the bottom left side of my jaw, along with four teeth. Then Dr. Topham rebuilt my jaw with bone from my calf. The results were incredible; my scar healed beautifully, and people could barely tell that I had had surgery.

After surgery I had physical therapy and learned several exercises that I continued to keep up with for several years. I also had a course of radiation to eliminate any cancerous cells that might have been left behind and to prevent a recurrence of the cancer. I was nervous, but the radiation oncologist had a great sense of humor and made sure I was laughing and in good spirits whenever I showed signs of nervousness. The radiation worked, and there have not been any signs of cancer since.

Even though I was pleased with the results of the surgery, I wasn’t completely confident about my new look. My face had an indentation, and I was self-conscious about it all the time. At a follow-up visit with Dr. Topham, he suggested reconstructive surgery after I had healed, so in February 2009 I returned for the procedure. I felt extra confident knowing that both Dr. Topham and Dr. Ridge were in the operating room with me. During the procedure, Dr. Topham transferred thigh skin and fatty tissue to my cheek to reconstruct my face, mouth, and lips.

I was very pleased with the results, and I looked like myself before the cancer. Thanks to the talents of Dr. Topham, my self-esteem returned. I was able to eat anything and could speak with no problem. I was running around with no pain and felt great.

I am especially grateful to my family and friends who provided much needed love and support throughout my treatments. My co-workers were amazing, accommodating, and patient. I resumed my normal life working, spending time with friends, and being outdoors as much as possible. I got my life back.

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