By Jeffrey Stern
There’s an old saying that it’s better to be lucky than good. Tony Corrente is both.
Corrente’s career as an NFL official began in 1995 and he’s emerged as one of the best. That is evidenced by his many postseason assignments, including Super Bowl XLI. That’s the “good” part.
His luck came into play on Sept. 11, 2011, during a Pittsburgh-Baltimore game. Late in the third quarter, Pittsburgh’s Ike Taylor taunted Ravens tackle Michael Oher. Corrente stepped between the players while throwing his penalty marker. Meanwhile, a few yards away, a fight had broken out. Corrente was in the middle of the action as Oher and teammate Matt Birk tussled with Steeler players. He was knocked to the ground.
After the game, Corrente took ibuprofen due to body aches caused by the tumble. In the following days, he began coughing up blood. A visit to his doctor led to an appointment with a specialist. He then learned he had throat cancer.
Had he not been knocked down, had he not taken ibuprofen — a blood thinner — and had he not followed up with his doctor, Corrente’s outcome likely would not have been so positive.
The Head and Neck Cancer Alliance (HNCA) took advantage of Corrente’s story and his celebrity by naming him the national spokesman for the annual Oral, Head & Neck Cancer Awareness Week April 10-16.
During that week, the HNCA offered free oral, head and neck cancer screenings at more than 400 sites across the country.
“My experience shows the importance of both screening for and early detection of oral, head and neck cancers,” Corrente said. “I had no symptoms until the incident on the football field, and if it had taken much longer to detect the cancer, it might have spread and forced me to undergo massive surgery. Because I was diagnosed at an earlier stage, I was able to undergo treatment without serious complications and have a successful outcome.”
An estimated 120,000 new cases of oral, head and neck cancer will be diagnosed each year, making it one of the top five cancers worldwide. Many individuals will not be aware of their cancer until it has reached an advanced stage. Tobacco and alcohol use increase the chances of being stricken by that type of cancer, but many cases have been found in non-drinkers and non-smokers.
Corrente was happy to spread the word about the benefits of preventive action.
“I am living proof that early diagnosis and treatment can improve the outcome and chances of survival for people with these cancers,” he said.
Jeffrey Stern is Referee’s senior editor.