“They handled it all. All I had to do was focus on getting better.”
Rob Rutigliano was a happily married father of three. With a doctorate in molecular genetics and biology, he had worked for nearly 20 years in the field of cancer, from performing lab research to heading up a center that matches cancer patients with clinical trials.
One afternoon, Rob found a lump in his neck, which he quickly had scanned and then biopsied. “I was young, fit and healthy – we figured most likely it would be Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” said Rob. When the histology came back, however, it was indicative of stage 4 metastatic pancreatic cancer. “A death sentence,” said Rob. “Everything changed.”
Rob’s first thought was to investigate the bigger cancer centers, but a friend highly recommended Dr. Jeff Vacirca from the New York Cancer and Blood Specialists (formerly North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates), part of COA.
“I went to see Dr. Vacirca, and right off the bat, I liked him. He was sharp, intelligent, and completely tuned into what was happening today. I told him I wanted molecular testing of the tumor – which was cutting-edge science back then – and he immediately began arranging the paperwork. So there I was, in a community oncology setting, getting all the advantages one might expect from a big center.”
According to Dr. Vacirca, Rob didn’t look sick, the way pancreatic cancer patients normally do. He sent Rob immediately for a sonogram, had the pathology redone, and a few days later, Rob found himself being escorted to Dr. Vacirca’s office, where Dr. Vacirca was on speaker from Texas. “You have Non-seminomatous germ cell tumors – testicular cancer,” he said. “This is a very treatable disease. You will survive.”
Two days later, Rob had surgery to remove one testicle, and then began four grueling cycles of chemotherapy to reduce the tumors around his body. The entire time, Rob’s main goal was to keep his home life unaltered, and the New York Cancer and Blood Specialists made that possible.
“I wanted to drive myself to the treatments, and with the clinic just a five minute drive from home, I was able to. I can’t imagine what it would have been like, driving an hour and a half every day to New York City.”
As Rob became progressively sicker throughout his chemo, he was increasingly grateful for the support he received at the clinic. “They had such compassion – I never felt like a number in a corner.”
Another crucial benefit was how the clinic streamlined the entire experience. “It was effortless,” said Rob. “The center was a one-stop shop that did everything: oncology visits, blood work, scans, chemo – all in the same place. More than that, they also have a nutritionist on staff, scheduled all of my follow-up appointments, kept track of my changing drugs, and even called in my prescriptions. I never once dealt with my insurance agency – they handled it all. All I had to do was focus on getting better.”
In late January 2014, Rob finished his last chemo treatment. By June of the same year, he was completely cancer-free. Today, he’s a strong advocate of the benefits to being treated in a community setting.
“People should know that you can get world-class treatment right around the corner. You don’t need to go that far.”