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Dana Farber Excerpts Immunopatient

The Dana Farber blog recently excerpted Immunopatient. You can read much longer excerpts here, but the blog didn’t have that much space! Still, I was honored the nation’s leading cancer research institute saw fit to highlight my book. Their excerpt appears below and here’s the original link to the blog post.

Immunopatient: One Patient’s Story of Cancer and Immunotherapy

It’s not uncommon for cancer patients to take to a pen after a diagnosis. Peter Rooney’s taken that to another level. Rooney, a former journalist and author of the book Die Free, captured his cancer journey in the new book Immunopatient: The New Frontier of Curing Cancer. The following excerpt is reprinted with permission from Immunopatient by Peter Rooney (Hatherleigh Press, 2017). Available at, wherever books are sold, and at

Two days before Thanksgiving, Dr. James Mier called to tell me I had two new brain tumors.

Immunotherapy patient Peter Rooney

The author, Peter Rooney

I did the best I could to take Dr. Mier at his word—he would know better than me, after all—but a question kept nagging at me. A question whose answer would have much further-reaching effects on my life and my treatment than I would have ever imagined.

Does my immune system work in the brain the same way it works in the rest of my body?

Dr. Mier said that, while he didn’t know the answer to that question, he was inclined to think it didn’t.

“I’ve always been a little doubtful,” he explained. “If the immune system could get into the brain that easily, we’d all have MS by now. But you shouldn’t be discouraged. The good news is there’s no evidence of cancer in the rest of yourbody,which could very well mean there aren’t any cancer cells to travel to thebrain and seed more tumors.”

My reaction was, as you might expect, less than thrilled. “Cancer-free from the neck down is great and all,” I said, “but I was hoping the news would be even better.”

“If you had to pick one person to thank for this,” Dr. Mier remarked while reviewing the test results with me, “it would have to be Gordon Freeman at [Dana-Farber].”

“I  wouldn’t be so quick to assume that the news won’t be as good as all that in the future,” Dr. Mier replied. “Remember, these small brain tumors are very receptive to radiation, and there may very well be an immune response. We  just don’t know yet.”

I paused to think for a moment before asking, “Do you think Gordon Freeman would know?”

Dr. Mier paused as well before cautiously saying, “He might. If anybody would know, he would.”

I’d first heard the name “Gordon Freeman” about a year earlier, while basking in the afterglow of a clean scan report.

“If you had to pick one person to thank for this,” Dr. Mier remarked while reviewing the test results with me, “it would have to be Gordon Freeman at the Farber.”

The poet Emily Dickinson calls hope “the thing with feathers,” perhaps because the feeling itself can be so light and fleeting.

I was becoming increasingly worried by the information Iwas finding online about my prospective treatment  options.  What I read suggested that the various types of white blood cells that constitute the body’s immune system don’t easily pass through the blood-brain barrier.

I was quietly beginning to panic. Throughout my cancer treatments, one of the foundations of healing—for me, at least—was positive visualization. Picturing my body’s white blood cells actively hunting down and killing cancer cells had become a vital mental exercise for me, one that helped me follow the concrete, scientifically-established path to remission and restored health. But that sense of focus and momentum was in danger of becoming unpinned as I pictured an impermeable locked gate somewhere at the base of my skull, keeping out a teeming swarm of frustrated T cells.

I was counting on Freeman to help me erase that scenario and replace it with a more hopeful image—ideally one that featured marauding T cells and melting cancer cells. Maybe he could offer some encouraging insights about how the immune system works in the brain and how it shrinks brain tumors like mine.

I know; it was a lot to hope for.

Postscript from the author:

It’s been almost seven years since I was first diagnosed with Stage IV kidney cancer, and almost five years since I began a clinical trial that combined two immunotherapy agents. There have been setbacks, but I continue to hold cancer at bay, through strategies I discuss in my book that include traditional medicine along with exercise, good nutrition, mindfulness meditation and a spirit of acceptance, but not resignation. I have a lot to live for and I’m thankful to be around at a time when there are so many exciting developments in the care and treatment of cancer patients.

One man’s journey into the abyss of cancer

It’s not a book anyone would choose to write, a book speckled with medical jargon and terms like nephrectomy, Interleukin-2, Nivo and ipi. The powder-blue cover jacket ominously highlights an intravenous needle drip.

Peter Rooney

But it’s not a medical book. It’s personal and moving.

Peter Rooney of Keene is a wordsmith, a journalist and an author. He was director of public affairs at Amherst College when his life changed forever one morning in February 2011. His car slid on some ice entering a roundabout in Keene on his way to work. He jerked the steering wheel, pain unexpectedly screaming through his upper left arm.

Continue reading One man’s journey into the abyss of cancer

Keene man finds hope in emerging cancer treatments

Manchester Union Leader Correspondent

Peter Rooney of Keene has turned his journey with stage 4 kidney cancer into the medical memoir “Immunopatient: The New Frontier of Curing Cancer.” (Meghan Pierce/Union Leader Correspondent)

KEENE — A Keene man has turned his journey with stage 4 kidney cancer into the medical memoir, “Immunopatient: The New Frontier of Curing Cancer.”
Continue reading Keene man finds hope in emerging cancer treatments

Immunopatient on the Air: Radio Interview about Cancer, Life, Immunotherapy, Lessons Learned

John McGauley is a talented writer, newspaper columnist and now, radio host on WKBK in New Hampshire. I was honored to be his debut guest to discuss my new book,  Immunopatient. I’ve been working on it for several years, and  Hatherleigh Press is publishing it this fall. You can order it here.



Immunotherapy researcher Gordon Freeman takes stock

It had been almost a year since I had last visited pioneering cancer researcher Gordon Freeman in his office at Dana-Farber. On this blustery fall day I was using a cane, hoping that the reason for my limp and sore thigh was tendon and tissue strain, not new cancer or complications from treatment, recent surgery, and radiation.


Gordon Freeman

The security guard in the lobby printed me a temporary ID card and pointed the way to the staff elevator that would take me to the fifth floor.

“You’ll have to swipe the ID once you get in the elevator,” she said. “Otherwise you won’t be able to get up there.” Continue reading Immunotherapy researcher Gordon Freeman takes stock

1. Rube Goldberg on a Drunken Bender, or How I Hope my Immune System Fights Cancer


Rube on bender

Dr. James Mier called me two days before Thanksgiving to tell me I had two new brain tumors. He delivered the bad news as gently as possible — the tumors were extremely small, they could easily be zapped with high dose radiation, and if all went well, I’d be cancer free once again.

But still, two new brain tumors? I felt I had made so much progress fighting cancer over the last four years, but once again reality was intruding on my plans for healing. I did the best I could to take him at his word, but a question kept nagging at me — does my immune system work in the brain, like it has been in the rest of my body?  Continue reading 1. Rube Goldberg on a Drunken Bender, or How I Hope my Immune System Fights Cancer

2. Slip-Sliding Away 


If you’ve ever found yourself driving with no control of your car, you know that you experience every micro-second in slow motion. That’s exactly what happened to me one cold grey morning in late February of 2011, when I hit a patch of ice entering a roundabout on the University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst, just after a car ahead of me did as well.  Continue reading 2. Slip-Sliding Away 

3. Everything Changes


Downtown Keene, NH

I arrived for my appointment with Dr. Wu the next morning at 10:30 sharp. This time I didn’t have to wait. The receptionist, Renee, ushered me into the examining room and I spent a couple minutes to myself, trying to calm my racing thoughts.

Online, I had discovered that bone lesions were abnormal growths that had embedded themselves into the bone, and often were associated with cancer. A brief rap on the door announced his arrival. Whippet thin and nervous-seeming, Dr. Wu plunged right into the bad news. Continue reading 3. Everything Changes

Beating the Worry that Comes with Cancer

For a Stage IV cancer survivor I’ve got a lot going for me:
— Clean brain MRIs for more than a year; cancer free from the neck down for more than two.
— My older son is getting married in a few months. My younger son, who graduated last May, just got word he’ll be teaching in Austria next year on a Fulbright program.
— My wife and I support each other, and we’ve weathered the storm of a Stage IV cancer diagnosis, surgeries, radiation treatments, forced semi-retirement, and the uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis.
Despite my good fortune at being a complete responder, so far, in a clinical trial that I am fortunate to be part of, I can’t shake feelings of unease.

Continue reading Beating the Worry that Comes with Cancer