Survivor Story: Arnold Roufa of Nyack

Peter D. Kramer wrote this inspiring profile of Arnold Roufa for the Sunday Life section of Oct. 9, 2011:

If you’ve been to Nyack recently, you’ve likely seen Arnold Rou­fa’s panoramic photo of the village adorning the “Welcome to Nyack” banner.

The retired ob/gyn — who goes by the name “Roufa,” not Dr. Roufa or Arnold Roufa — has had three wives and three lives, one of them touched deeply by breast cancer.

First, he was married with children. That marriage ended in divorce.

Then came his marriage to Myrna March, a R&B-pop singer-songwriter whose talent still causes him to speak in hushed tones. For 22 of their 24 years of marriage, March battled cancer, in one breast, then the other, succumbing to lung cancer in 1998.

The next year, Roufa married Arlene Levine, his high-school sweetheart from New Orleans. They live on the Hudson in Nyack, where he pursues a passion that drives his third life: photography.

Here’s the wrinkle, though: In that middle life, 20 years ago — as he watched March battle cancer, Roufa himself was diagnosed with breast cancer, a diagnosis that is extremely rare in men. Fewer than 1 percent of breast-cancer cases each year are in men.

By the time of his 1991 surgery — on stage 1 cancer in his right breast — Roufa had lived with March’s cancer for 17 years.

His surgeon found the cancer after operating on Roufa for gynecomastia, a painful swelling of his breasts that was a side effect of ulcer medication he was taking. The surgery was on a Friday. The following Monday, the surgeon asked Roufa to come to the office.

“I’ll never forget that day,” he recalls. “It was horrible. He told me I had cancer. I was not thinking cancer, although I had been living cancer since 1974 with my wife. It hit me.”

As a gynecologist, Roufa had examined thousands of women, urging his patients to be proactive about breast cancer.

Doctor became patient. He had his right breast removed and chemotherapy.

Being a man with a disease that primarily affects women didn’t affect his ego.

“Men have breasts,” Rou­fa says.

What took its toll was watching March endure years of doctors, diagnoses and more doctors.

There were dark times.

“As Myrna was going through more things, I would take her tranquilizers. I would take my tranquilizers and sneak liquor. To me, it killed the pain. But it didn’t kill the pain of what she was going through.”

There were also laugh-out-loud times.

After her first mastectomy, March insisted on going to a hospital affair, wearing a prosthesis. When a brash man at the bar complimented her breasts, “she took out her prosthesis and threw it at him,” Roufa says with a laugh. “That’s how she was.”

Twenty years later, long retired, Roufa shared 10 things he took away from his battle with cancer. Read them, after the jump.

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