Cancer Surgeon & Survivor Set to Cycle in Her Fourth Consecutive Pelotonia

BY BOB HECKER

If preparing to take her surgical recertification board exam in late 2009 weren’t stressful enough for Doreen Agnese, MD, she now had a lump on her neck.

Her primary care doctor found it when Agnese, a surgical oncologist and clinical geneticist at the OSUCCC – James, was having a routine physical. An endocrinologist later biopsied it. While awaiting the results, Agnese managed to pass her exam.

Almost immediately afterward, she learned that she had papillary thyroid cancer. In January 2010 she had surgery at the OSUCCC – James to remove the tumor, which fortunately had been detected before spreading to her lymph nodes.

Her surgery was followed by radioactive iodine therapy that lasted about a week and had mild but lingering effects on her voice and sense of taste. But Agnese, whose clinical specialties include breast cancer, melanoma and general surgery, is not complaining.

“It was a weird time with a strange mix of feelings for me,” she recalls. “I felt sad and concerned about my cancer diagnosis, but I also felt ‘survivor guilt’ because so many of my patients have worse prognoses and more severe side effects from treatment.”

Agnese remains cancer-free, but like other survivors she faces the fear of recurrence. Her determination to quell that, and all other cancer fears, propels her participation in Pelotonia.

“I want to help take the power out of the words, ‘You have cancer,’” she says. “When people get into a car, they don’t usually wonder if they’re going to die in a crash. But when they hear that they have cancer, dying is a sudden concern.

”It would be so nice to find cures for the many forms of cancer so that we could at the least manage them like a chronic illness,” Agnese adds. “We’ve made a lot of strides, but people still die of their cancers. Only through continued research will we find cures, but with government money for research dwindling, we need other ways to fund it.”

Like Pelotonia. She worked as a volunteer for the inaugural event in 2009 (before her diagnosis), but she has ridden 50 miles in each of the three subsequent Pelotonias and will do it again in Pelotonia 13. Her participation has required rigorous training.

“I rode bikes as a kid back in New Jersey, but I hadn’t ridden much at all since then,” Agnese says. “Preparing to ride was a major ordeal. For a non-athlete like myself, the couch is always calling. I come from a long line of couch potatoes.”

But she thinks the work, both training and fundraising, is worth it. She is the captain of the OSU Surgical Oncology Peloton, a riding group that is part of Team Buckeye, Ohio State’s official superpeloton.

“Pelotonia is a great community event that brings thousands of people together for a common cause that benefits everyone by funding cancer research,” Agnese says. “And since I’m so busy clinically and as an educator that I can’t do the lab research myself, I feel this is a way I can contribute to that too.”

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