A former 911 first responder and retired New York City Police Department detective lieutenant, Sandro Rizzotti, 54, is accustomed to meeting arduous challenges head on and with a team. So, when the Macungie resident discovered a marble-size lump in his neck while shaving, he saw his family doctor right away. "He said, 'I don't like the way it looks,'" Rizzotti says.
Rizzotti's next step took him to otolaryngologist Chetan Nayak, MD, with LVPG Ear, Nose and Throat. Rizzotti and his wife, Barbara, learned that abnormal tissue in his throat was oropharyngeal cancer – cancer of the throat that had spread to his lymph nodes and was contained there.
"When I found out it was cancer, I thought about going to Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center in New York City," Rizzotti says. "Then I learned
that Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute is affiliated with Sloan and follows their exact chemotherapy and radiation treatment model. That put my mind at ease."
To successfully treat this type of cancer while minimizing long-term side effects, it takes a diverse and experienced team of providers. "Our head and neck cancer multidisciplinary care (MDC) team includes a head and neck surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, social worker, registered dietitian, speech therapist and lymphedema therapist, as well as our nurse navigator who provides guidance and support throughout treatment," Nayak says.
Nurse navigator Cynthia Smith, RN, is a lifeline for her patients. She attends appointments, answers their questions, helps arrange transportation when needed, and much more, during their cancer journey.
"Because treatment for head and neck cancer is complicated, a team approach is imperative," says medical oncologist Bradley Lash, MD, with Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute, who treated Rizzotti with three rounds of chemotherapy. Rizzotti also underwent 35 radiation treatments. "My goal was to target radiation to the
cancer cells while sparing normal tissue," says radiation oncologist Robert Prosnitz, MD, with Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute.
During and after treatment, Rizzotti had trouble swallowing and eating. But with aggressive supportive care from his MDC nutritionist and therapists, he was able to persevere.
Three months after treatment ended, Rizzotti received results of a follow-up PET scan: His cancer is in remission.
Rizzotti is now back to his routine of daily weight training at the gym and food shopping and cooking for his family. "Cancer threw me a curve, but I had an amazing team of doctors at Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute and excellent support from the MDC," Rizzotti says.