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Living with cancer

Photos by Dan Bishop

October 2014

Michael Roshar never suspected his vaguely nagging back and abdominal pain was cancer. Instead, he ordered a more ergonomic chair for his office and took Prilosec as prescribed by his internist. Then in January 2013, Roshar discovered a blood clot in his right calf. The clot, which often signals tumor activity, triggered a series of tests that eventually resulted in the diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver.

"Pancreatic cancer is an insidious thing," says Roshar. "Itís asymptomatic until itís almost too late."

According to Laura Cross, affiliate chair with the Milwaukee chapter of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, pancreatic cancer is the fourth-deadliest cancer in the U.S. Currently, 74 percent of people die within the first year of diagnosis.

Yet today, Roshar is part of a growing group of people living with cancer long term. When he was first diagnosed, doctors told him his life expectancy was six to nine months. Now, nearly two years later, Roshar maintains an active lifestyle despite "living with cancer." Upon retiring from his law practice at Quarles & Brady last October, he joined his church council and condominium board. He also continues to exercise five days a week, golfs and travels frequently with his wife.

"I think attitude is very important," says Roshar. "I believe in the power of prayer and miracles."

Focused on living well and pursuing his passions, Roshar has become dedicated to raising awareness about pancreatic cancer and how devastating the disease is for people affected. He is actively involved with Pan Can, speaking at advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., and participating in fundraising events like the PurpleStride walk at Miller Park.

"His story is an inspiration," says Cross. "Heís creating hope for others."

Along with his involvement in Pan Can, Roshar and his wife personally reach out to other patients suffering from pancreatic cancer and their caregivers around the country, offering encouragement and compassion.

"They need that contact to help allay their fears and uncertainty," says Roshar.

Not too long ago, incurable cancers like stage 4 pancreatic cancer were referred to as terminal. But with new and innovative developments in cancer treatment, many incurable cancers are quite treatable, and patients like Roshar are living a long time with cancer.

"Our goal is to improve quality of life," says Dr. Paul Ritch, an oncologist with Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Since learning he has pancreatic cancer, Roshar has focused on controlling the disease. Within days of his diagnosis, he had a port surgically implanted and began undergoing chemotherapy. In the past 20 months, Roshar has gone through nearly 40 rounds of chemotherapy at Moorland Reserve Health Center near his home in New Berlin. He reports for treatment every other Tuesday, then returns home with a pump that infuses chemo for another 46 hours. On Thursdays, he returns to the health center to have the pump removed and is on the golf course by the afternoon. Ritch says though Rosharís treatment involves a fairly aggressive regimen of drugs with a high level of toxicity, he has tolerated it well.

"Iíve been fortunate that I havenít really had any adverse reactions," says Roshar.

In fact, Roshar has responded better to treatment than anyone could have expected. Although his cancer isnít curable, the tumors on his pancreas are no longer visible in scans.

"Michael has always remained upbeat despite being handed such a grave prognosis," says Ritch.

That positive attitude is evident when he talks about the bright spots of his cancer diagnosis.

"My family is closer," he says. "I appreciate life more. Itís a grim diagnosis, but itís not a hopeless fight."


This story ran in the October 2014 issue of: