Back on the Horse: Ron Rogers

Contemporary Oncology, Summer 2011, Volume 3, Issue 2

You'd never know that Rogers has had multiple myeloma for almost 11 years -- and that's just the way he likes it.

It was a cloudless January day in Los Angeles, and Ron Rogers was zipping right along.

Out of bed at 6:30 am, the chief executive officer was in his Century City office at The Rogers Group, his public relations firm, for breakfast by 8 am. It was a Wednesday, so he didn’t have his usual workout, a 2-mile hike through the Santa Monica Mountains followed by weightlifting.

His schedule was full: a morning of strategy meetings with clients and staff, of planning for fundraisers, and of “talking to my friends in the media”—PR-speak for lobbying— then lunch at Ivy at the Shore in Santa Monica. After that it was back to the office for a board meeting of the Los Angeles Fire Department Foundation, some desk work, then a plane ride to a northern California horse auction, followed by several more days at his 1200-acre cattle ranch in Colorado, where an untold number of his 200 cows were due to give birth.

Mention of the ranch launched Rogers into a happy description of how cows give birth at all hours, requiring countless visits to snowy pastures every 3 or 4 hours, and of how he had been recently trying to rope a friend into going to Colorado with him.

“I want to see if I can work him for 3 or 4 days,” Rogers says. “When I am up there it’s the only time our foreman gets a break. I told [my friend], ‘I have a chore for you that involves a very long glove.’”

Rogers seems in the prime of his life, a 67-year-old, happily married, highly energetic and successful businessman whose biggest gripe on this particular day was waiting in a doctor’s office for 15 minutes for a treatment. “I never understand,” he says, “why you end up waiting in a doctor’s office. I don’t keep my clients waiting… It’s an old peeve of mine.”

Ron Rogers

You’d never know that Rogers has had multiple myeloma for almost 11 years—and that’s just the way he likes it.

“It’s a minor inconvenience,” Rogers says of the cancer. “There were maybe 2 or 3 times where I didn’t feel good. [Yet] I can still say the whole thing is a minor inconvenience compared to what I have seen other people, friends, parents, go through. I have been very fortunate.”

Living with a disease that may be terminal within 5 years of diagnosis was for Rogers a slow climb out of a well of fear into what today feels more like an occasional splash of anxiety. A patient of oncologist James Berenson, MD, he is tested monthly at Berenson’s Institute for Myeloma & Bone Cancer Research in West Hollywood and always feels, he says, some nervousness before an exam.

“There have been times when I have been on some of the chemotherapies that Dr Berenson has brewed up that have knocked me for loop for 2 or 3 months,” Rogers says. “I’ll be tired, leaving the office at 2:30 pm and generally dragging my tail, but those times have been very few. The rest of the time, when he is not trying to do me in, I am pretty active.”

Exactly why Rogers has done so well is something of a mystery to him and his wife, 65-year-old Los Angeles attorney Lisa Specht. Their reasons are, medically speaking, nonspecific: Rogers’ good physical shape and positive attitude and Berenson’s cocktail of antimyeloma drugs and therapies.

“Everything he has done for Ron has been right. Everything,” Specht said of Berenson. “Yes, there have been some side effects. Once in awhile Ron gets a side effect that’s really unpleasant, but he doesn’t go into major depression. His idea of major depression is to go read a book by himself. He is not a weeper. He is not having a pity party for himself.”

Rogers’ stoicism might come from his having had a pretty full and satisfying life. The son of a Hollywood press agent, he has what was later found to be dyslexia and left school in the eleventh grade. Always business- and ranching-minded, and introduced to horses when he was 13, Rogers was buying and selling stallions at age 17. He started his own car parking business at 19.

A brief stay in the mailroom at his father’s press agency followed. Alfred Bloomingdale, heir apparent of the department store fortune, hired him as a sort of business mechanic. Rogers spent several years guiding many Bloomingdale-bought businesses into the black before returning to his father’s agency, Rogers & Cowan. He worked as a set publicist on television programs such as The Andy Griffith Show, Ron Rogers with wife Lisa Specht and their cat Tigger at their Colorado cattle ranch.Gunsmoke, and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Still, Hollywood wasn’t really his thing.

Ron Rogers with wife Lisa Specht and their cat Tigger at their Colorado cattle ranch.

“I just didn’t like the lack of ethics and loyalty of many of the people I came in contact with at the time, except for a few people I worked for when I was a kid,” Rogers says.

Rogers had formed his own agency, then called Rogers & Associates, serving clients such as Dole, Raytheon, and Whole Foods, when multiple myeloma struck. A week passed before he could break the news to his wife. The initial horror lasted months. Then a sort of calm ensued that puzzled him, he says.

“After about 6 months, I went to see a shrink because I thought, ‘Maybe I am handling this all too well, and maybe it’s not real.’ After a couple of sessions, he told me to get out of his office because I was dealing with it in its proper place,” Rogers says. “I remember thinking, am I doing what I really want to do? You don’t know how sick or ill you will be feeling and how long you are going to live, so there’s this big question mark going through your mind. But today I don’t think about what I have, unless I am on my way to Dr Berenson, or I am taking some kind of a test.”

“I have absolutely no fear of dying,” he adds. “I have a fear of being uncomfortable, or of not doing what I would like to do.”

Specht is less sanguine about their future, but pretty sure of one thing.

“I think that Ron is going to die from something else,” she says, “and not this disease.”