Pancreatic Cancer Patient Story: Michael Roshar

This story originally appeared in The Waukesha Freeman on Aug. 22, 2014. Used with permission. Author: Katherine Michalets (special to The Waukesha Freeman)

Staying Upbeat Despite Grim Diagnosis

Pancreatic cancer patient raises awareness for deadly condition

Michael Roshar at Moorland Reserve Health Center cancer treatment.

Michael Roshar with one of the chemotherapy stations in the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Moorland Reserve Health Center. Photo: Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Michael Roshar credits the staff at Moorland Reserve Health Center for lifting everyone's spirits, but as he chatted with nurses in the cancer treatment area Wednesday, it was clear Roshar does his fair share of spreading good cheer.

Roshar, 65, is a familiar face at the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Moorland Reserve Health Center in New Berlin, where he has been undergoing treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer since the clinic opened in October of last year.

The fact that Roshar remains cheerful is especially amazing, considering the grim diagnosis for many pancreatic cancer patients. Ninety-four percent of such patients die within five years. The median survival rate is six to nine months.

The first symptoms Roshar experienced in February 2013 were back pain and a blood clot in his lower calf. He was a man who spent time staying fit — working out five times per week and even running a half marathon. When Roshar went in for tests, they revealed he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver. The cancer was beyond curing, so Roshar was faced with a chemotherapy regimen that would keep the disease in check as much as possible.

He goes to Froedtert's main campus in Milwaukee for blood work every other Monday and then to Moorland Reserve Health Center on Tuesday to get a chemo infusion pump for 43 hours before having it removed on Thursday. He then goes directly to the golf course, Roshar said.

"I have been very lucky in that I have not had major effects from chemo," Roshar said.

In addition to chemotherapy, Roshar takes supplements, continues to exercise and has acupuncture. After the diagnosis, he decided to retire a year early from his law practice and bought himself a Dodge Charger because he figured driving it would bring a smile to his face, which therefore, could be considered therapeutic.

'I believe in miracles'

While many cancer patients may turn inward, Roshar has become an advocate for raising money for pancreatic cancer research. He attended an advocacy day in Washington, D.C., in June and frequently talks to other patients to spread hope and offer compassion. 

"I believe in miracles," he said. "I believe in the power of prayer."

Roshar's treatment has been going very well and the tumor on his pancreas is not clearly visible. 

While Roshar said he understands why patients may choose to withdraw after a life-altering diagnosis, it wasn't the road he wanted to follow.

"I chose to turn outward and, in a sense, try to forget about myself a bit," he said.

He became active with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and has participated in the fundraising PurpleStride walk at Miller Park with family and friends.

"I try to reach out to every patient I hear about," he said. "They are scared and uncertain about what is going to happen. His wife of 43 years, Millie, has in turn shared her experiences with other caregivers.

Steve Lipshetz, the Milwaukee affiliate media chair for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, said having Roshar speak during advocacy efforts in D.C. helps to give the cause additional credibility.

"His firsthand knowledge and story is an inspiration," Lipshetz said.

Lipshetz said pancreatic cancer is the fourth deadliest cancer in the U.S.

"We fight to raise funds and to try and bring awareness to the disease and how deadly it is," he said. He hopes an early diagnostic test can be created.

Michael Roshar with nurses at Moorland Reserve Health Center

Michael Roshar, left, talks with Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Moorland Reserve Health Center nurses Amy Pepe, center, and Kristen Kell on Wednesday morning. Photo: Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Along with his positive attitude, Roshar credits the medical team at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin for his successful treatment. He has also appreciated having the new Moorland Reserve Health Center about one-and-a-half miles from his home. 

Dr. Paul Ritch, an oncologist at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, said Roshar was in good enough health when diagnosed that he qualified for a regime that is appropriate for young and otherwise robust patients.

One of the hardest parts about treating pancreatic cancer is that there is no test for early detection. For 40 to 50 percent of patients who are diagnosed, the disease has already metastasized, Ritch said.

Between responding extremely well to treatment and maintaining a positive attitude, Roshar has been able to sustain an excellent quality of life.

"I think attitude is important. He went into it with a good attitude even with a potentially grim diagnosis," Ritch said.

To learn more about Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, go to www.pancan.org.

This story originally appeared in The Waukesha Freeman on Aug. 22, 2014. Used with permission.
Author: Katherine Michalets (special to
The Waukesha Freeman)