Patricia Cantwell

Head and Neck Cancer Patient Stories, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Patient Stories, Osteosarcoma Patient Stories

Tricia Cantwell

Imagine being 33 years old and going to the dentist because you have pain in your mouth, likely caused by your wisdom teeth. So you have all of your wisdom teeth extracted but still have a throbbing pain. Your oral surgeon takes an x-ray and sees a bone fragment. He takes a biopsy, which is sent to a local lab, but they are unable to make a definitive diagnosis. The biopsy is then sent to the Mayo Clinic, where it is determined, 6 weeks later, that you have osteosarcoma - otherwise known as bone cancer, of the jaw.

Tricia Cantwell does not have to imagine that scenario - it really happened to her in 2007. "Once we finally figured out what was wrong, my oral surgeon referred me to Dr. Ridge at Fox Chase," recalled Tricia. "I knew I'd be in good hands there."

"Although I was scared, I was confident that Dr. Ridge could help me."

John A. Ridge, MD, is chief of head and neck surgery at Fox Chase Cancer Center. After evaluating Tricia, he suggested she consider a course of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor before surgery. "He was honest and direct. Although I was scared, I was confident that Dr. Ridge could help me," said Tricia.

Next, Tricia met with Margaret von Mehren, MD, a medical oncologist who started Tricia on chemotherapy. Tricia underwent 4 treatment cycles. After her first two treatments, the tumor was increasing in size and her therapy was changed. At the time of surgery, there was less dead tissue in her tumor than the doctors had hoped for. "Dr. von Mehren was great to work with. We were both disappointed that the treatment was not more successful," admitted Tricia, who returned to Dr. Ridge for surgery.

When it was time for surgery, Dr. Ridge asked Neal Topham, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Fox Chase, to step in. In August 2007, Tricia underwent an extensive surgery - 10 hours - to remove the cancer and rebuild her jaw.

"My scar healed beautifully."

"First Dr. Ridge removed most of the bottom left side of my jaw, along with 4 teeth, to make sure the cancer was gone," Tricia said. "Then Dr. Topham rebuilt my jaw with bone from my calf. The results were really good. My scar healed beautifully and you could barely tell I had surgery."

Part of her recovery involved physical therapy in which Tricia learned exercises that she still uses today. Then she underwent a course of radiation treatment designed to eliminate any cancerous cells that may have been left behind and to reduce the risk of recurrence. "I was nervous, but the radiation oncologist just made me laugh," recalled Tricia. "Fortunately, radiation worked and there has been no sign of recurrence," recalled Tricia.

Once her initial treatment was complete, Tricia returned to work at the law firm of Woodcock Washburn in Philadelphia in the accounting department. "Although the surgery was a success and I was pleased with the results, I wasn't completely confident about my new look," admitted Tricia. "I wished my face didn't have an indentation. I was self-conscious about it all the time."

Patricia Cantwell

Her wish came true.

At a follow-up appointment, Dr. Topham suggested that she consider reconstructive surgery once she was healed. "I always thought Dr. Topham was a wonderful and kind doctor. I was so glad I was hooked up with him!" Tricia explained.

In February 2009, Tricia returned to Fox Chase for her reconstructive surgery with Dr. Topham, along with Dr. Ridge, who scrubbed in. Tricia felt extra confident knowing both surgeons would be in the operating room with her.

"I couldn't be happier. Dr. Topham did a beautiful job."

By transferring Tricia's thigh skin and fatty tissue to her cheek, Dr. Topham was able to reconstruct her face, mouth and lip. "It's only been 5 weeks and I already feel good about my results," shared Tricia. "I couldn't be happier. Dr. Topham did a beautiful job."

With the reconstruction, Tricia was hoping to look like herself before cancer. "Now I do," she said. "Thanks to the talents of Dr. Topham, my self esteem is back, I can eat anything and speak with no problem. I am running around with no pain and feel just great." Tricia is especially grateful to her family and friends who provided much needed love and support through her treatment. "The people I work with were amazing too. They were accommodating and patient and I'm glad to be back!" Tricia has resumed her "normal" life - working, spending time with friends and being outdoors as much as possible.