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Back in the saddle

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Pancreatic cancer patient Peter RosowPancreatic cancer patient Peter Rosow Three-and-a-half years after being handed a diagnostic death sentence, Peter Rosow is back in the saddle again - quite literally.

The former advertising agency executive has happily returned to a retirement spent in the country stables with his Dutch Warmblood dressage horse Noah, and in the city with his wife, Rebecca, his two children, and his four grandchildren. And he is forever grateful for seeking the second opinion from Weill Cornell Medicine oncologist Joseph Ruggiero that gave him the new lease on life.

Rosow’s devastating diagnosis of surgically inoperable, locally advanced pancreatic cancer was delivered in December 2011, with a one-year life expectancy.

“The doctor said, just enjoy yourself and go to some nice restaurants,” Rosow said.

A close friend suggested Rosow go to Cornell to see Dr. Ruggiero, who painted a much more hopeful picture.

“They gave him a limited life expectancy of one year, without even trying. To me that was just wrong,” Ruggiero said. “Certainly the disease was not operable at the time, but I thought we could shrink the tumor.”

Ruggiero attempted a new chemotherapy regimen that had just been trialed in Europe, and Rosow responded well. His tumor shrank sufficiently to attempt surgery, but the doctors encountered a tangled sheet of fibrosis and scar tissue, and were unable to remove it.

“I thought that was my last chance. When I woke up and found out they weren’t able to do it, I was deeply disappointed and pessimistic,” Rosow said.

But Ruggiero didn’t give up. He had another suggestion: radiation.

“I asked, what’s the best I can expect from this?” Rosow said. “I was told there have been occasions when the tumor just melts away, but they are rare. I guess I was one of those occasions. After 27 radiation treatments, they did a scan and the tumor was gone. It’s still gone.”

Rosow said he appreciated Ruggiero’s calm temperament and can-do attitude.

“He delivers all news, good and bad, in the same even tone. He’s Steady Eddy,” Rosow said.

Joseph Ruggiero, M.D.Joseph Ruggiero, M.D. Ruggiero said he approaches every case optimistically.

“We’re not dealing with a patient as a statistic, we’re looking at them as individuals. Probably statistically, that other doctor was right. But with Peter, he was wrong.”

Pancreatic cancer may be one of the most difficult to treat, but Ruggiero says patients shouldn’t lose hope.

“Therapies have improved, and many of our patients do get substantially better,” Ruggiero said.

Ruggiero, who is about to enter his fourth decade as a doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, said one of the benefits of coming to an academic medical institution is access to all the latest research and therapies. Another is the personalized care that has been the tradition at NewYork-Presbyterian.

“I think that’s something we do well here. We bond with patients,” Ruggiero said.

That was definitely the case with Rosow. From infusion center technician Rosie to radiation oncologist Gabriella Wernicke, M.D., he developed relationships with almost everyone he encountered during his frequent visits to the Weill Greenburg Center for treatment. During a recent return visit, the sprightly 77-year-old was greeted like a superstar.

“It seems crazy, but I love it here. I feel very safe. It’s a wonderful place with wonderful people who are warm, loving and optimistic,” Rosow said.

“I don’t know if I’m cured, but I’ve been cancer free now for two-and-a-half years and I’m very optimistic,” Rosow added. “I feel fine and I’m still here. I’m a very happy guy.”

Hear Peter's story in his own words, in this video: