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By the winter of 2006, Bill Buehler had suffered long enough with pain in his mouth. After several trips to the dentist, no one could provide a definitive diagnosis. His teeth continued to bother him so Bill decided to see a new dentist. By the time he arrived at his first appointment, most of Bill's lower jaw had disintegrated. After one look at the x-rays, his new dentist could not hide the concern in his eyes. Bill suspected immedately that something was wrong and it was.
Bill took his films and went straight to Dr. John A. Ridge, an oncologic surgeon at Fox Chase Cancer Center, widely known for his expertise in head and neck cancer treatment. Dr. Ridge diagnosed Bill with T4 squamous cell carcinoma in his mouth, tongue and jaw bone (mandible). Because his cancer was so extensive, Dr. Ridge suggested a surgical procedure that incorporates reconstruction of the jaw.
"I didn't even know if treatment was available for me. I was aware that there was a possibility I could die," admitted Bill. A smoker until the day he was diagnosed, Bill was surprised he had cancer, and especially how extensive it had become.
"I knew I had the best surgeons helping me."
Next, Bill met with Neal Topham, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Fox Chase, another member of his team. "I had researched these guys and found out that Dr. Topham does more mandible reconstruction than anyone on the East Coast," Bill shared. "I knew I had the best surgeons helping me."
During an extensive 12-hour operation, Dr. Ridge carefully, and successfully, removed the cancerous tissue in and around Bill's mouth. Dr. Topham then removed bone and skin from Bill's leg in order to re-build his mouth, jaw and tongue. "They really did wonders," explained Bill.
Although the road to recovery was long, Bill had rehabilitation to help him learn to speak and eat again. To ensure that the cancer was gone, Bill underwent 34 days of radiation therapy and 3 rounds of chemotherapy.
"I could not have been in better hands."
"I am so grateful to the surgeons at Fox Chase. Between Dr. Ridge's expertise in oral cancer surgery and Dr. Topham's experience in reconstruction, I could not have been in better hands," shared Bill. "The hospital nurses and staff, being cancer patient specialists, took great care of me after the operation. They really are the best at what they do."
Bill admitted that he often hears "war stories" from people who go to other hospitals for cancer treatment. He believes that unless a hospital focuses on cancer, they may not know how to treat you properly. He explained, "Fox Chase knows what they are doing - all they treat are cancer patients. They are the experts."
"I couldn't have done it without Catherine - and the docs at Fox Chase."
Bill continues to recover, with the help of his wife, Catherine, a financial director for AT&T in New Jersey. "My family and friends were so supportive of my wife and me during this time. Having their support really aided my recovery." A lineman for Jersey Central Power and Light, Bill remains on disability. "Before my cancer, my wife was the kind of woman who would have fainted at the sight of blood," he shared. "When I got sick, she stepped up to the plate and took great care of me. I couldn't have done it without Catherine - and the docs at Fox Chase."