Topics in This Section
Head and Neck Cancer Patient Stories, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Patient Stories, Radiation Treatment for Prostate Cancer Patient Stories
Michael Kostic considers himself very lucky to be alive. He retired in 1999 at the age of 61 from his job of 34 years as a toll collector on the New Jersey turnpike. Between the auto emissions and smoking cigarettes, he knew that there was a good chance cancer was in his future.
In the summer of 2005, Michael was having pain on the left side of his face. His family doctor took one look in his mouth and said, "You need to go right to the hospital. Do not stop at home first." In total shock, Michael followed these instructions and drove directly to his local hospital in his home state of New Jersey.
The surgeon he saw was also very concerned and took a biopsy, which showed Michael had a very large cancer in his jawbone. At his surgeon's recommendation, Michael decided to undergo surgery at another nearby hospital. After the operation, he was told the cancer was gone, however Michael was still in pain. At a follow-up appointment, he learned the surgeon did not remove all of the cancer. He still had cancer.
"I thought this was the end. I was totally devastated."
"I thought this was the end. I was totally devastated," Michael admitted. Although the surgeon offered to repeat the operation, Michael had already decided to look elsewhere. "My family recommended we go to Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia," said Michael. "It was the best choice we could have made."
In October 2005, Michael was teamed up with some of the region's top doctors specializing in oral cancers - surgeon John A. Ridge, MD, PhD, FACS; radiation oncologist Eric Horwitz, MD; medical oncologist Barbara Burtness, MD; and plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Neal Topham, MD.
"If you had waited one more month, we don't know if you could have been treated successfully."
After evaluating Michael, the doctors told him, "Your situation is very serious. If you had waited one more month, we don't know if this cancer could have been removed successfully." In addition to cancer in the jawbone, Michael was also diagnosed with prostate cancer - but the mandible cancer took precedence, as it was considered immediately life threatening.
Once again, Michael agreed to start with surgery. Dr. Ridge performed a full mandible (jaw bone) resection, in which he removed the cancer and most of the jaw. Since the cancer had spread to Michael's lymph nodes, they had to be removed as well.
"What Dr. Topham did in surgery was truly amazing."
Next, Dr. Topham performed reconstruction of the jaw, using bone and skin tissue from Michael's lower leg. "What Dr. Topham did in surgery was truly amazing," explained Michael. "He built me a new, functioning jaw."
Michael credits Fox Chase with saving his life. He said, "I'm not really a religious man, but I did pray. The Fox Chase doctors were the answer to my prayers."
Following surgery, Michael underwent radiation treatment for 40 days. On some days, he also had chemotherapy. Michael has a strong support system, which includes his daughter, Jackie, and her husband, who drove him to and from Fox Chase every day for treatment. Michael also lives near his mother, who helped care for him after surgery.
"Between my family and the doctors and nurses at Fox Chase, everyone took wonderful care of me. The nurses couldn't do enough for me." He added, "That hospital is so great." With the help of all of his head and neck cancer team members, Michael resumed his normal activities.
"The doctors at Fox Chase give you the confidence you need to get through treatment."
In the spring of 2008, Michael was almost fully recovered from his oral cancer. The time had come to treat his prostate cancer. Dr. Horwitz prescribed another 40 treatments of external beam radiation using intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). Using daily image guidance in addition to the IMRT allowed the radiation to be targeted to the prostate while sparing much of the surrounding normal organs. Although he was offered the opportunity to have radiation close to his home in New Jersey, Michael felt strongly that he wanted to be at Fox Chase. "That's where they saved my life. If I needed more treatment, I wanted to be at Fox Chase."
Michael continued, "At Fox Chase, if they can't save you, they sure as hell try to. Of course they can't save everybody. But I was surprised they saved me."
In the fall 2008, Michael had some symptoms on the right side of his face. Rather than returning to the operating room, Dr. Topham suggested hyperbaric therapy, which was available in New Jersey. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is used to treat the entire body with 100-percent oxygen at greater than normal atmospheric pressures. "I couldn't believe it worked. And I didn't need more surgery. It was fantastic of Dr. Topham to consider non-invasive treatment options for me."
"If I ever get sick again, I'd go right back to the doctors at Fox Chase. They know what they're doing."
Michael is very appreciative of the support he receives from his mom and daughter. He recently witnessed his 9-year-old granddaughter as she was awarded "Student of the Month." Michael often thinks of what he would have missed if he didn't make it. "I truly believe that by going to Fox Chase, I'm alive today. When anyone tells me they have cancer, I always recommend Fox Chase Cancer Center. Those guys are the best!"