In September of 2014, sports medicine physician Michael Ross received a shocking diagnosis: Stage 4 colon cancer. Ross is an avid athlete, a vegetarian, a picture of health.
Updated 11/18/15 In September of 2014, sports medicine physician Michael Ross received a shocking diagnosis: Stage 4 colon cancer. Ross is an avid athlete, a vegetarian, a picture of health.
The 43-year-old father of two decided he would not take the diagnosis – or treatment – lying down. Instead, this triathlete kept running, albeit a little bit slower, while receiving chemotherapy.
“The first time I met with one oncologist, I was told that this is the survivability – 50 percent of people make it this far. And I didn’t want to hear that,” said Ross, whose work helps athletes give their very best performances.
So, while Ross had surgery to remove a part of his colon – called the Sigmoid colon or pelvic colon – and had to hook his body up to a pump that pushes chemotherapy every two weeks, he said the diagnosis was “not going to change what we’re going to do.”
Ross said he felt OK during this time period, not terribly sick. The surgery and slower pace of recovery and chemotherapy meant Ross could spend more time with his two sons, Ben and Jacob, who were 11 and 9 at the time.
On a chilly weekend in November last year, Ross and about a dozen friends ran in the Rothman 8k, completing the nearly five-mile course up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in around 42 minutes. “That’s twice as slow as the winners,” said Ross.
The group wore bright blue shirts emblazoned with a big semi-colon, a riff on Ross’ besieged body part.
Michael’s wife, Wendy Ross, said she was initially hesitant when Michael said he wanted to keep running. “When he said he wanted to still do it even though he was going to be having chemo, I confess I did try to dissuade him.” But when it became clear that it was important to him, “I decided just to support the effort,” said Wendy.
For Michael’s follow-up surgery, the couple chose a New York doctor who had been recommended to them by a friend.
“When we met, he was very positive,” recalled Wendy. “He didn’t give Michael that ‘dead man walking look,’ that alone was priceless.”
The surgeon and his team took out all of the tissue that looked suspicious, they reconnected Michael’s colon, and infused hot chemo into his abdomen. After the surgery, Michael got good news. “The stuff that was left, that the chemo hadn’t gotten, was not cancerous,” he recalled.
Michael broke down in tears as he recalled his journey, but says he is thrilled to focus on what’s next in life.
“I did a triathlon is September of this year, it was not my best race, and my goal is to qualify for nationals and get there again,” he said. He plans to run the Rothman 8K again this year, with a group of friends sporting semi-colon shirts.
Wendy thinks his positive attitude helped not only his recovery, but his entire family cope with his illness. “It certainly helped the kids that he was living and not curled up somewhere, thinking about dying.”
Their older son, Ben Ross, has chosen to forgo a big bar mitzvah party, and is raising money for colon cancer research instead.
“And now we’re back to normal,” said Michael, beaming at his wife.
“We were never that normal,” replied Wendy with a smile, “but we’re back.”
“You can’t have a bad day now,” said Michael.