Two years ago, the unimaginable happened to Jill Zarin when she found out that the cancer she thought her husband, Bobby, had beat in 2009, had spread to his lungs. The former Real Housewives of New York star was understandably beside herself. “I was hysterically crying,” she told People. “I was scared to death.” Now, Bobby and Jill are opening up about their battle with the disease, and what they are doing to help others.
Following the initial diagnosis, Bobby opted to get his thyroid removed and underwent a special treatment meant to destroy leftover cancerous cells. “The radioactive iodine usually kills off whatever undetectable cancer cells are left in your body after surgery,” he said. “We thought it was cured—and it usually is in about 93 percent of cases. But I wasn’t able to absorb the radioactive iodine. So it came back.” Despite not having any symptoms before both cancer diagnoses, it was routine checkups that contributed to his life being saved. “If it wasn’t for that routine checkup, it could have been too late by the time we would have found it,” Jill explained.
The couple started aggressively researching options, which led them to three different doctors at three different hospitals: David Pfister, a top oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, Dr. Keith Bible, a top oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and Dr. Richard Lazzaro at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital, who practices a unique technique called robotic thoracic surgery. For more than two years the doctors regularly scanned the tumors in Bobby’s lungs and determined it wasn’t lung cancer, but instead thyroid cancer in the lung. They decided to remove them in April using the da Vinci Robotic System, which is minimally invasive. "What Dr. Lazzaro does is amazing," Bobby said. "He sits at one end of the room at what looks like an Xbox, controlling a robot that does the surgery. So instead of making these huge incisions, which leaves you with all these scars and all the things that go with a big surgery, they go in with these tiny little tubes which are cameras and tools that remove the tumor."
This less invasive approached worked wonders. “I stayed in the hospital for three days, but I was walking around that same night of surgery, not like in the old days when you had a long recuperation and major scarring,” he said. “It’s a big difference.”
Following surgery, Jill had samples of the cancerous tissue sent to a doctor she discovered on 60 Minutes. Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is a billionaire whose company, Nantworks, developed genome-sequencing machines to pinpoint genetic mutations. “Nobody is doing what he’s doing,” Jill said. “We reached out to him and he took Bobby’s case. We are very lucky.” Bobby credits his wife with leading the charge to find the best group of doctors possible. "Jill got a group of doctors together who are like the A-team,” Bobby said. “She really looked into everything and did so much research. It’s good I have Jill on my side.”
And it’s good that cancer research has the Zarins on its side. Later this month the couple will put on a benefit in Bridgehampton to honor Bobby and raise money for cancer research along with the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation. Their goal is $1 million, which would go toward a grant to research targeted therapies for thyroid cancers. “There are a lot of new developments," Bobby said. "The way of looking at cancer treatment is really changing. Before, if you had prostate cancer, they treated that. If you had breast cancer, they treated that.”
Despite the adversity, Bobby remains optimistic about the future. “It’s all about your outlook,” he explained. “Many of my doctors tell me that a large percentage of the way you heal and feel is your attitude.”
A Hamptons Happening takes place July 11 and will feature amazing food from over 30 NYC and Hamptons restaurants. Click here to buy a ticket to the event, or you can make a donation towards the grant here.