For many girls, thirteen is an age of awkward haircuts, bright eye shadow, and first heartbreak. But for Rosemary Orciari, it was the year her adolescence was put on pause. Not even a month into eighth grade, Orciari was diagnosed with cancer, an event that would not only change her childhood, but the course of her life.
As with so many cancer stories, Orciari first brushed off her strange abdominal pain as nothing serious, but an ultrasound exam revealed a different story. The teen was told that she had Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a blood cancer that had metastasized and spread throughout her small body. Orciari was given months to live.
“I was diagnosed in October and told I wouldn’t make it to Christmas,” the Pfizer researcher said in a matter-of-fact tone that downplayed the gravity of the brush with death she had just recounted.
Shortly after her diagnosis, Orciari was uprooted from her quiet Massachusetts family home and taken to Memorial Sloan Kettering’s cancer hospital in New York City.
“I was in the hospital every other week for the first year and was put on very aggressive chemo for two years,” said Orciari. “I went from 13 to 30 really fast.”
The next two years were a block of stolen childhood. Orciari missed her entire eighth grade year, and missed every other week of her freshman year of high school. She missed out on school sports and dances. While other kids were busy deciding what they wanted to study in college, Orciari was struggling to catch up and ensure that college was even an option.
Thankfully, the treatment did work and Orciari is cancer-free now. The experience left its mark and gave Orciari the drive to dedicate her life to researching science and health.
Clear, direct, and to the point, Orciari is a no-nonsense scientist. As the current Director of Quality Assurance at Pfizer, Orciari is in charge of overseeing pharmaceutical materials that will eventually be passed onto late stage clinical trials.
But unlike most researchers, who may be driven by their love of science or the thrill of discovering the unknown, Orciari is also propelled by something a little stronger: experience.
“My superpower is perspective,” says Orciari. “Having lived through such an experience gives you perspective on what is an issue and what’s important. It helps you to appreciate what you have and what you can potentially lose.”
Most importantly, Orciari’s experience gave her a unique perspective on what it's like to be treated with drugs for similar diseases as the drugs she works to develop. And here’s where her expertise is most needed: few realize that it takes a long time, and lots of patients treated in clinical trials, to have new cancer drugs approved in the marker. And, some cancer treatments have not changed for nearly 40 years—a fact that Orciari finds “unacceptable.”
Recalling the procedures she underwent as a child, Orciari says, “My experience gave me the drive to help other children with cancer. I have a part in helping to change the future of treatment.”
Orciari has worked at Pfizer for 25 years, helping to develop everything from antibiotics to antidepressants. Oncology, however, is a particularly exciting venture for Orciari, who is one part of a larger team working together around the clock to ensure the shortest path between development of more targeted cancer medicines and distribution. “The technology is just exploding and I’m hopeful we can make things go faster,” said Orciari, a smile spreading across her face.
Explore more stories like Rosemary's and other exciting scientific breakthroughs at Pfizer.com/discover.