Brick Councilwoman Marianna Pontoriero was told earlier this year that she had just a 30 percent chance of beating a rare form of head and neck cancer that developed in her oral cavity, but after a grueling recovery period there is one thing on her mind these days: helping others.
Pontoriero, 43, sustained burns across her body from chemotherapy treatment and was also told she would have just a 10 percent chance of ever speaking again since most of her tongue was to be cut out during the surgery.
“I knew I’d still have my hands, and I’m Italian, so I could make my way through that,” she joked Tuesday night, as she was honored for receiving the Patient Courage Award by the New Jersey Mayors’ Committee on Life Sciences.
The organization honored Pontoriero not just for her brave fight against cancer, but for her dedication – even through a painful and grueling recovery period – to her community and helping others. She is now continuing to re-learn how to speak since her tongue was replaced by skin from her arm in a “radical” procedure she received during the surgery to remove the cancer. Even during the worst moments of the process, Pontoriero tried her best to make every council meeting, and publicly spoke about her plans to form a support system in town for others engaged in the same fight.
“When I looked around at Sloan-Kettering, and saw all the people sitting there without someone being there to hold their hand, my heart broke for them,” she said.
Pontoriero, a long-time advocate for abused children and the elderly, is moving forward developing plans for her cancer support group in town, and said she is dedicating her life to the cause.
“I want to thank everyone in my church, St. Dominic’s, who prayed for me and continue to pray for me,” she said Tuesday, as she was joined at the council meeting by a room filled with family members, including her wife, Crystal, and the children they adopted after providing a home as foster parents.
“My survival was a miracle from God,” Pontoriero said. “I thank you each and every day for the life that I will now devote to people who don’t have anyone to hold their hand.”
Pontoriero, who runs a law office in Brick with her sister, was the top vote-getter in last week’s council election, where she easily won a second term. That term will be dedicated to developing the programs she hopes to see in place soon to help those battling cancer in town.
“Let’s come together, like we always do in our town, to help the people who need help,” she said.
Brick Mayor John Ducey declared this coming Friday to be “Councilwoman Marianna Pontoriero Day” in town.
“The fight was not just about cancer, it was about continuing to be strong for her family, as well as her community,” he said, calling his colleague a “true force of nature.”