Pfizer scientist shares story of childhood cancer in national ad

Rosemary Orciari, a chemist at Pfizer in Groton for the last 25 years, stands in front of  Building 220, of the Groton facility, on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. As a child, Orciari was diagnosed with lymphoma. Her story is being told in a national digital ad campaign Pfizer is pushing out.  (Tim Martin/The Day)
Rosemary Orciari, a chemist at Pfizer in Groton for the last 25 years, stands in front of Building 220, of the Groton facility, on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. As a child, Orciari was diagnosed with lymphoma. Her story is being told in a national digital ad campaign Pfizer is pushing out. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Groton — Rosemary Orciari didn't hear anything for months after she submitted two sentences on her "interesting back story" last year.

Then, she was at Stop & Shop getting a cake for her daughter's birthday in January when she found out she'd be flying to New Zealand in 10 days to shoot an ad.

Orciari, a scientist at Pfizer's Groton facility, had responded to a call for an ad campaign. Her back story? She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma as a child and spent eighth and ninth grade in chemotherapy.

In 45 seconds, a new ad that got pushed out nationally last week talks about her childhood dream of getting better and her later dream of making sure "no other child had a childhood like mine."

When Orciari was in New Zealand, she served as a consultant and went to the casting call to find an actress to play her as a child. She commented sarcastically, "Yeah, that's not weird."

She appears in the ad wearing a lab coat and peering into a microscope, with her name and "Pfizer Labs, Groton CT" on the screen.

This follows the launch of a corporate ad campaign Pfizer launched last year, amid backlash to spikes in drug prices. One ad featured senior scientist Mark Noe of East Lyme, though the focus was on how drugs are made rather than his personal story.

Orciari, 50, grew up in Springfield, Mass. and started experiencing severe abdominal pain at age 13.

"They weren't diagnosing it, so they thought, 'You're a teenage girl; you're just going through changes,'" she said.

But then she went in for an ultrasound and the doctors discovered a large mass. She was rushed into surgery at Mercy Medical Center.

In October of 1979, she was admitted to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and stayed in the Ronald McDonald House.

"They had told my parents to plan that I wouldn't live until Christmas, the cancer was so advanced," Orciari said. She and her family celebrated Christmas in November.

But when she went in for surgery, the cancer was gone. Still, she spent all of eighth and ninth grade in chemotherapy. Every month, she dealt with five days of treatment, a week off, another five days of treatment, another week off and a bone marrow spinal transplant.

Orciari missed eighth grade but was still passed onto ninth grade, and so she was behind. She progressed from having C's freshman year to A's as a senior, and by her final year of high school, she was well enough to play softball and basketball.

Upon enrolling at Springfield College, Orciari started off studying physical education but switched to physical therapy when she realized that teaching in a public school would not be the same as her Catholic school experience.

"Then I decided that working with people was really hard and maybe not for me," Orciari said, and so she switched to chemistry, graduating in four and a half years with a bachelor's degree in chemistry and biology.

In 1990, she got married and moved with her husband to Mystic, and they now live in Hope Valley, R.I. They have two daughters, ages 20 and 16.

Orciari got an environmental chemistry job in Middletown but found the field wasn't for her. In trying to get a job at Pfizer, the third time was the charm, and she was hired in 1993 by the analytical research and development team.

She then worked in bench chemistry, testing of developmental medicine, chromatography, microscopy, and informatics and lab management. She now works in quality assurance.

But "the treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma right now is the same as it was when I was diagnosed, so does that seem acceptable?" Orciari asked.

Reflecting on how her childhood impacts her present work, she said knowing what it's like to be a patient has given her knowledge of what she can impact. Orciari feels that not everybody gets an opportunity to help people who are scared, and whether the opportunity to help comes through a clinical trial or new medicine, she doesn't want to waste the chance.

e.moser@theday.com

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