Paul Reitano: Starting a Family Cancer Free

"When we as patients are at our worst, the Fox Chase staff is at its best!"
‐Paul Reitano

I thought I was in very good health before I was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 at age 45. I was an avid martial arts participant and enjoyed working out. I had two careers: I was an engineer’s assistant for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission during the day, and I was a photographer for corporate and social events on nights and weekends. My wife and I were looking forward to starting our family.

Paul and Amy welcome their first baby, Amelia, in March 2015.
Paul and Amy welcome their first baby, Amelia, in March 2015.

In October of 2012, I felt a peculiar solid lump in the left side of my neck. It wasn’t tender and didn’t hurt when I pressed it, but I brought it up with my primary care doctor, who sent me home with a prescription for antibiotics. When those had no effect, I met with an ENT at a hospital close to home. The ENT decided that he thought it was squamous cell carcinoma and scheduled surgery for me.

I agreed to the surgery without any thoughts about the hospital, the doctor, anything. I just wanted this cancerous lump out of my body. After our initial panic wore off a bit, my wife, Amy, and I realized we should get a second opinion before going through the surgery the ENT had ordered.

Amy decided she should call a head and neck surgeon at Fox Chase Cancer Center, to seek a second opinion. Amy previously worked at Fox Chase as a nurse anesthetist and still had one of the surgeon's cell phone numbers. She texted the surgeon and explained my diagnosis.

The next day we were at Fox Chase, and I was correctly diagnosed with HPV tonsil cancer, not squamous cell carcinoma. The surgeon brought in a team to take care of me, including Dr. Thomas Galloway, a radiation oncologist. They came up with a plan for me that included a radical tonsillectomy first, followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy to get rid of the remaining cancerous tissue after surgery. 

It was not an easy time. Amy and I were looking forward to having a child, a plan that had to be completely rearranged in order to think about how to survive the current situation. To go through treatment, one has to break it down into pieces instead of looking at the 1-year, 5-year, or 10-year data.

Instead, one has to just focus on what can be done to fight today. That sort of simplification pays dividends.

I knew from that initial meeting at Fox Chase that I was in the right place for my care. I had done the research and gotten second opinions. And knowing that the hands of the surgeon at Fox Chase were as good as I could get helped me relax. Four months after my treatment, I started easing back into work. Not a day goes by since then that I am not grateful that I chose Fox Chase for my care.

There was a real comfort in Fox Chase, I trusted them completely. The decision to be treated by Fox Chase saved my life and allowed me to give life to a little girl.

Four years ago I completed my treatment for HPV tonsil cancer at Fox Chase, and I feel great. My wife, Amy, and I and our 2-year-old daughter now live in Northampton, Massachusetts. The move was our deliberate choice to be closer to nature and to focus more closely on family and health. Our new life in New England allows me to spend more time hiking and to be a stay-at-home dad until my daughter gets a little older.