Rob Brown: Beating a Cancer Trifecta

“There’s a reason Fox Chase is the leader in cancer treatment.”
‐Rob Brown

My cancer journey began in late 2021 when I began experiencing feelings of sickness, most often after eating. One night in February 2022, however, it became clear food was not the issue.

I’m the kind of guy who can sleep anytime, anywhere, so when the pain in my abdomen got so bad that I couldn’t sleep, I finally told my wife I needed to go to the ER. The doctors there did some testing and scans, but all they found was an infection, so they gave me an IV and antibiotics. After a few days, when I felt better, they sent me home.

A month later, the same thing happened. This time, when I went to the ER, they performed a colonoscopy. That’s how I discovered I had a tumor the size of a softball in my colon and was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Urgent Surgery

My sister-in-law works at Fox Chase Cancer Center, so she encouraged me to get a second opinion, specifically from Dr. Jeffrey Farma, a well-regarded surgical oncologist there. When we met with Dr. Farma, he confirmed the diagnosis and said that my next step should be surgery. Unfortunately, he was fully booked for two weeks, and I was anxious to get the tumor out, so I elected to have surgery at my local hospital.

When I awoke from the procedure, the surgeon told me she hadn’t been able to remove my tumor because it was so large and touched several other organs. My wife immediately contacted Dr. Farma, and the next day I was transferred by ambulance to Fox Chase.

The very next day Dr. Farma performed a surgery to remove the tumor. This time it was successful. Dr. Farma confirmed that they’d found no cancer in the tissue surrounding the tumor —the “margins” — or in any lymph nodes. He’d gotten it all and also reversed my temporary ostomy, a type of surgical procedure that includes colostomies and urostomies that creates an opening from an area inside the body to the outside.

A Second Cancer Diagnosis

Once I sufficiently recovered from surgery, Dr. Efrat Dotan, my medical oncologist, prescribed chemotherapy to ensure the cancer wouldn’t come back. I was pretty nervous going in for treatment, especially because most of the people in the chemo room were so much older than me. But all of the nurses were very kind and reassuring, so that made me more relaxed.

Throughout chemo, the doctors took regular CAT scans. At some point, they noticed two suspicious spots on my lungs. This led to me scheduling an appointment with Dr. Stacey Su, a thoracic surgeon at Fox Chase. I thought we were going to discuss preventive measures, but she told me we needed to test those spots, and the only way to do that was to go in and remove them. That meant I needed another surgery.

I’d already gone back to my job teaching business and technology at a local high school, so I was worried this would disrupt my life all over again. However, Dr. Su reassured me that she could perform the surgery videoscopically and I’d miss almost no work at all. I had the surgery at the start of our school’s holiday break, and four days later, I felt great. You’d never know I had surgery. It was amazing.

When we got the test results back, the news was mixed. The bad news was that I also had a rarer type of lung cancer called a carcinoid tumor. The good news was that Dr. Su had gotten it all, and I was in the clear.

New Pain, New Cancer

Not long after the lung cancer surgery, in January 2023, my butt started hurting significantly. The pain got so bad I could barely sit through a cross-country flight. I went back to see Dr. Farma and was diagnosed with my third primary cancer: mucinous adenocarcinoma.

My initial treatment for that was a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. Dr. Joshua Meyer, a radiation oncologist, oversaw the treatment and the tumor shrank, but it wasn’t enough to get rid of the cancer completely.

I consulted with Dr. Farma again, and he was honest with me: The surgery for this cancer was pretty major and would change my life forever. However, he said that if he were in my shoes, it’s what he would do. After everything we’d been through, I trusted him, so I agreed to this third and, I hope, final surgery.

In July, 2023, Dr. Farma performed what’s called an abdominal perineal resection, in which he removed my sigmoid colon, rectum, and anus. Dr. Adam Walchak, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, worked with Dr. Farma to ensure my other organs wouldn’t shift into the vacant space created by the surgery.

Grateful and Giving Back

After the surgery, I was in the hospital for about a week, and it was another three months before I could sit again. Now I can sit a lot longer and do a lot more. I will have a colostomy bag for the rest of my life, so I’m getting used to that. But it’s much better to deal with that inconvenience than to not be here for my four kids.

I can’t say enough good things about everyone I interacted with at Fox Chase. If I emailed anyone, they responded right away. Even Dr. Farma, who is very senior in the organization, was incredibly responsive, and his assistant, Jessica Peralta, was awesome. Everyone takes the time to listen to you, the patient, and makes sure you’re as comfortable as possible. There’s a reason Fox Chase is the leader in cancer treatment in our area.

To give back, I’m setting up a soccer tournament fundraiser, Soccer Shootout to Crush Cancer. I’ve been involved in coaching soccer for more than two decades, and many of my doctors’ kids play the game. The tournament will take place in June 2024 and all proceeds will go to Fox Chase.

Learn more about treatment for colorectal cancer and lung cancer at Fox Chase Cancer Center.