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Lynn Schoepske has been brushing his teeth twice a day religiously for 80 years - well, maybe 79. He never smoked or chewed tobacco. That is why he was so surprised to learn he had cancer in his mandible, or lower gum.
Prior to his diagnosis, Lynn noticed several of his teeth were loose. He went from his dentist to a periodontist to an oral surgeon, who told him "your gums look angry."
To find out why, a biopsy was performed. While he was waiting for the results, Lynn enjoyed his annual ski trip to New Hampshire with his wife, Carol, 4 children and 11 grandchildren. "Ski trips with our family are what we look forward to all year," said Lynn. "We had a blast."
The biopsy was positive for cancer in his mandible.
After returning to their home in New Jersey, Lynn's oral surgeon called with the results. The biopsy was positive for cancerous lesions in his mandible, or jaw bone.
With that news, Lynn decided it was time to head to Fox Chase Cancer Center in nearby Philadelphia, where he met John "Drew" Ridge, MD, PhD, FACS, a surgical oncologist with expertise in treating patients with complex head and neck cancers.
"We enjoyed Dr. Ridge so much. He explained all of my treatment options."
"We enjoyed Dr. Ridge so much," Lynn explained. "After he told me I had mandible cancer in my lower gum area, he explained all of my treatment options." A lengthy surgery was scheduled, in which Dr. Ridge removed the front of the lower jaw and the nodes from the upper part of the neck on each side. He explained, "Fortunately, though his tumor did invade bone, no additional treatment with radiation or chemotherapy was recommended. Lynn could return to his normal level of activity very quickly."
Following that part of the surgery, Sameer Patel, MD, a plastic reconstructive surgeon, used tissue from Lynn's arm to reconstruct his mouth. He explained, "The surgery was a success. Once the cancerous tissue was gone, we rebuilt the bottom part of his mouth, while retaining half of his bottom teeth, preserving limited function of Lynn's mouth."
"It was amazing - I had no pain. Dr. Patel is terrific."
"It was amazing - I had no pain, just some numbness," Lynn said. "Dr. Patel is terrific. When I learned he played the saxophone in high school, I told him that I'm a retired high school band director and also play the sax. We had so much to talk about!"
Because Lynn had his mouth reconstructed, he can no longer play the saxophone. But that is not stopping him from enjoying life. "I played tennis a month after my surgery," noted Lynn. "Luckily I have a one-handed backhand, so I didn't have to use the arm that is healing from surgery. I'm also back to playing golf now."
"I feel very fortunate that my cancer was caught early - and that I was treated at Fox Chase."
"I feel very fortunate that my cancer was caught early - and that I was treated at Fox Chase," said Lynn. "I thought the Fox Chase nurses were very efficient. And I couldn't have asked for better docs than Dr. Ridge and Dr. Patel."