Family celebrates life, and the unexplainable

Monroe woman twice diagnosed with cancer defies odds … and logic


MONROE — Though Michelle Rogala, a cancer survivor, cannot explain how her good fortune came about, she is thankful it did, and she wants to spread the word.

Michelle Rogala, of Monroe, became the subject of this ad from Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, after she became pregnant and gave birth to a healthy baby, despite her cancer returning. The cancer was then found to have disappeared after she delivered the baby at 32 weeks. Michelle Rogala, of Monroe, became the subject of this ad from Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, after she became pregnant and gave birth to a healthy baby, despite her cancer returning. The cancer was then found to have disappeared after she delivered the baby at 32 weeks. “It is an unexplained miracle,” Rogala said. “I had the miracle of birth, and now I have the miracle of being healthy.”

Now that the 36-year-old Monroe resident has defied the odds by beating cervical cancer and having a child, she is sharing her story in advertisements for Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Through them, she hopes to provide inspiration and hope for others who are struggling with cancer.

“I’m trying to pay it forward,” Rogala said. “And that’s the reason I agreed to do the ad, and kind of get the word out.”

Rogala’s story of hope began in April 2005, when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Her gynecologist compounded the bad news by telling her that a hysterectomy was her only option. It was a devastating blow for Rogala and her future husband Stephen, who had hoped to eventually start a family.

Rogala told Stephen to leave her and find someone who was healthy, and could give him the family he wanted. Stephen refused, staying by her side and taking care of her through the grueling ordeal, Rogala said. He proposed in September, on Rogala’s birthday.

“I couldn’t have gotten through this without him and my mother [Doreen Sekora],” Rogala said. “He stood by me and said, ‘We’ll do whatever we have to do.’ He’s fabulous. I can’t even say how much I love and adore him.”

The first ray of hope came when Rogala’s gynecologist referred her to a doctor at Sloan-Kettering, who told her about a procedure called a radical trachelectomy. The procedure involves full or partial removal of the cervix in order to leave the uterus intact for later pregnancy.

A month after being diagnosed, Rogala’s cancer had progressed from stage 1 to stage 2. She acted quickly, and after the radical trachelectomy, her doctor said the cancer was gone.

Though pregnancy was still a possibility, it was something of a slim one. Rogala’s doctor said it would take time and numerous attempts, using in vitro fertilization.

But, while caught up in the whirlwind of preparing for her wedding, Rogala was hit with a harsh reality. Her cancer had returned. So as not to interfere with their nuptials, Rogala postponed surgery until after the wedding.

On the night of their wedding, Jan. 8, 2006, the newlyweds did something no one thought possible — conceived a child.

“Everybody jokes [that] I got pregnant in a town called Little Egg Harbor,” she said.

For Rogala, the pregnancy seemed nothing short of a miracle, but the very real fear of losing the baby loomed large.

“Everybody was nervous and scared,” Rogala said. “They didn’t expect me to make it to 12 weeks.”

By her seventh month, Rogala’s doctor confined her to bed rest. She gave birth a month later, on Aug. 29, 2006, to Madeline Faith, whose middle name was chosen because of the faith it took to get through the pregnancy, Rogala said.

Perhaps it was that very faith that brought about the next miracle in Rogala’s life, though no one can say for certain. When she went back to the doctor after giving birth, her cancer had completely disappeared.

“We were all kind of shocked at that point,” Rogala said. “[The doctor] called me and told me he was shocked, and there was no explanation.”

According to Rogala, she did nothing differently to bring about the change. Aside from her pregnancy and bed rest, she lived her life just as before. While her recovery could not be attributed to any medical procedure, no alternative therapy had been responsible, either.

“I’m not a health freak, either,” Rogala said, adding that soda and Doritos are regular dietary staples. “[It was] a lot of faith, a lot of hope, and that’s the only thing we can think of.”

Along with the couple’s prayers, they had a support group of family and friends who rallied around them, also praying for the outcome that seemed a long shot, Rogala said.

Baby’s first Christmas brought a request from the New York Post to share Rogala’s story with its readership. She was happy to share it.

Stephen’s family helped spread the word even more by displaying the article in their Especially For You flower shops in Monroe and Freehold. Rogala said a number of people read it and inquired about her story because they or their loved ones suffered from cervical cancer.

“Breast cancer and other cancers are more known than this,” Rogala said. Though Rogala said she is not sure why information on cervical cancer is not more widespread, she wants to do something about it so more people are armed with knowledge that could help them.

When Sloan-Kettering asked her to create a Web site outlining her story for the hospital, Rogala obliged, and is working on getting it up and running. She also did a fullpage ad for Sloan-Kettering, which ran on the back cover of a recent Sunday edition of The New York Times, and in the Sept. 1 issues of New York and New Yorker magazines.

The ad’s content is simple, but it speaks volumes. It is a photo of Rogala, with a twinkle in her eye, and a triumphant smile on her face. Little Maddie sits on her lap, peeking out from behind a note her mother is holding, which reads:


You said I’d never bear children. My daughter says you’re wrong.

Michelle and Maddie

Below the photograph, the ad provides a synopsis of Rogala’s story.

Rogala will also record a radio ad for Sloan-Kettering, set to air Nov. 5.

“I think … they like my story because I’m the unexplainable,” Rogala said.

No matter what the explanation, as the Rogala family celebrated Maddie’s second birthday last week, and Rogala herself remains cancer-free, one thing stands out about the remarkable story — miracles can, and do, happen.