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Robert Romero

Looking to the Future

Holy Name Cancer Patient stories - Robert Romero

Robert Romero didn’t follow his father and brother into body building, though they earned international fame for their efforts. Instead, the “black sheep” of the family, as he refers to himself, went to college, and became a runner and cyclist. The decision may have saved his life.

Well, more precisely, it might have been the spill he took when training to run. He was getting ready for the Empire State building marathon when his shoelace got caught in a stair simulator and he tumbled off the machine. Days later, he felt a lump on the right side of his groin, and thought maybe it was a hernia or that he pulled a muscle when he fell but he wanted to have it checked out. 

It was neither. Robert had melanoma, discovered after Dr. Juan Gonzalez, a general surgeon at Holy Name Medical Center, performed a biopsy on the lump. Robert was shocked – no one in his family had ever had melanoma and he spent little time in the sun. 

“I wasn’t thinking it was anything serious when Dr. Gonzalez called me to go over the biopsy,” Robert, 48, said. “He said someone up there was looking out for me because if I wasn’t checking for injuries from the fall, I probably wouldn’t have felt the lump.”

Still, it took Robert a while to hear and process that he had cancer. He went into a depression – he stopped shaving and cutting his hair. 

“I had no idea if I could beat this and I just had a hard time functioning,” he said.

Dr. Gonzalez removed the tumor but Robert still faced a year of chemotherapy, which he was extremely anxious about it. He has a phobia about medical procedures that involve needles. Despite his trepidation, Robert did well after his surgery and, with the help of his partner, Christina, and some therapy, he got through the treatment.

“The people at Holy Name have been so great – they know me and work around my phobia,” said Robert, from Bayonne. “I live a few blocks from another hospital but I choose to go to Holy Name. Everyone has been so good to me, I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

His treatment propelled Robert into remission. Life was getting back to normal – he continued working as a manager of a college’s IT department and began training again. He also went back to cycling and running with groups in Jersey City. 

But about a year later, a scan showed he had a recurrence – a tumor had developed between his pancreas and spleen, attached to the pancreatic tail. It would require a delicate, complicated surgery and Robert’s physicians recommended Dr. Sung Kwon, a highly-skilled surgical oncologist at Holy Name.

“Dr. Kwon is really good at explaining everything and told me he would do the least invasive procedure to get the best outcome,” Robert said. “He gave me the best- and worst-case scenario so I knew exactly what to expect. And he was there for me throughout this whole ordeal – he always called me right back whenever I reached out to him.”

Dr. Kwon removed about half of Robert’s pancreas and recovery went better than expected – he was able to walk into Dr. Kwon’s office for his follow-up visit without needing a wheelchair or walker. He continued regaining his strength. The years of running and cycling paid off – Dr. Kwon said Robert’s overall fitness helped a great deal with his recovery.

Still, Robert needed more chemotherapy and Dr. Kwon recommended Dr. Jason Lee, a hematologist/oncologist at Holy Name. With the help of Dr. Lee and the nurses and technicians who administer his treatment, Robert is doing well with his second round. He’s determined to focus on the future and what he’s going to accomplish.

“I’ve been working with Dr. Lee and his staff and they have been great with explaining everything and helping me through this,” Robert said. “I have my sights set on running the NYC Marathon in November 2021. I ran it in my 20’s and my treatment should be over by the summer – so it’s looking good. My grandmother always says God won’t give you something you can’t handle and if you get something, there’s a reason. I’m handling this second round of treatment much better and looking to the future.” 

Learn more about Robert's melanoma cancer physician at Holy Name