The “Pete Ruggieri Memorial 0.0 Un-Run” in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Sept. 17 is both a reminder of the mischievous humor that Ruggieri was known for in life, and the disease that, in March, claimed that life all too soon – thyroid cancer.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 43,720 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed this year, with women accounting for more than 70% of those cases. The vast majority survive with treatment, but the disease still claims about 2,000 people each year. Researchers continue to work on cures and better treatments, and doctors continue to urge patients to pay attention to warning signs.
The un-run, which coincides with Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, is a light-hearted event with a noble purpose: to raise money for thyroid cancer research at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia where Ruggieri received some of his treatment, said Stephanie Horst, Pete’s wife.
When the starting gun sounds, the 100-or-so participants, numbered race bibs pinned to shirts, will take a single step across the start/finish line at the Marion Court Room, a popular Lancaster tavern, and celebrate the accomplishment with a beverage of their choice.
That the comically absurd, quasi-athletic event was all Pete’s idea comes as no surprise to anyone who knew him, Horst added.
This was, after all, the man who concocted the “scrapple ice cream hoax” of 2016 (Google it) and who founded Lancaster’s now famous Santa Stumble, an uber-festive and wildly successful fundraising bar crawl where thousands of people in Santa costumes spend an evening in December visiting more than a dozen participating taverns – all to support local charities.
Giving back was Pete’s thing, Horst said, adding that the fundraiser for thyroid cancer research is just one more example. “Saying he was a great man is an understatement,” she said.
Located at the base of the neck, the thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight – just to name a few.
“While there are variations of the disease, all forms of thyroid cancer tend to share similar symptoms and warning signs,” said Dr. Jeremy Wigginton, chief medical officer for Capital Blue Cross. They include:
“If you experience any such symptoms, or if you have a history of thyroid cancer or thyroid problems in your family, it’s important to let your regular provider know,” Dr. Wigginton said. “While there are no regular screening tests currently indicated for thyroid cancer, talking with your regular provider about any of these symptoms, along with any family history of thyroid cancer or thyroid disease, can help you determine what monitoring methods would be right for you.”
Ruggieri’s journey began with the discovery of an unusual lump in the neck. In 2012 he was diagnosed with Hurthle cell thyroid cancer, a rare but aggressive and difficult-to-treat version of thyroid cancer.
Papillary thyroid cancer, the least aggressive and most treatable of the four major forms of the disease, accounts for about 80% of all thyroid cancers. Some with that diagnosis require little or no intervention, according to experts from the Mayo Clinic.
Those with cancers that require treatment will typically undergo surgery to remove some or all of the thyroid. Further treatment can range from targeted drug therapy to attack specific chemicals in cancer cells, to radiation and chemotherapy designed to kill those cells.
National Cancer Institute-funded researchers, including those at Jefferson Health, are looking into new treatments for more aggressive types of thyroid cancer, and working to understand differences in how people respond to various treatments.
Sadly, after an often painful battle in which surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy failed to halt the disease, Pete Ruggieri, a well-known, much-loved man with a quirky sense of humor, a deep love for Lancaster, and a zest for life, died in March at the age of 53 having lived several years beyond the expectations of some medical professionals.
“He was such a tough guy,” Horst said. “Pete wanted to live.”