Vilma’s Story

Vilma's doctors found a mass in her pelvis just months after her lymphoma had gone into remission. She met Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Ginger Gardner, who biopsied the tumor through a minimally invasive robotic procedure at MSK’s new Josie Robertson Surgery Center. Vilma was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and began chemotherapy treatments close to her home at MSK Westchester. She didn’t let the disease stop her from getting married over Memorial Day weekend.


Vilma (right) is pictured with her new wife, Michele, and their three children.

How Vilma Cuffed Cancer:
  • After beating lymphoma, former NYPD officer Vilma Rosario was told to get a mass on her ovary examined.
  • MSK surgeon Ginger Gardner analyzed the mass using a laproscopic robotic procedure at MSK’s newly opened Josie Robertson Surgery Center.
  • Vilma was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and began chemotherapy at MSK Westchester, close to her home.
  • She didn’t let her cancer stop her from getting married over Memorial Day weekend.

The toughest foe retired police officer Vilma Rosario has ever faced isn’t a criminal on the streets of New York City. It’s cancer — and she’s battled it twice.

In 2014, having seen several different doctors about an inconclusive mass on her thighbone, Vilma was frustrated and looking for answers. Six months after her ordeal began, she went to Memorial Sloan Kettering and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer.

The news was difficult to accept. Vilma was in the midst of planning her wedding to her partner of 11 years and the mother of her three children, Michele. The couple decided to postpone their big day so that Vilma could undergo chemotherapy.

Although Vilma was declared cancer free in April 2015, her journey wasn’t over yet.

Facing Another Challenge

In October, at a follow-up appointment, doctors found a peach-size cyst on Vilma’s ovary and recommended she consult a gynecologic oncologist. Since Vilma had beaten cancer at MSK before, she knew that’s where she’d wanted to go.

Vilma met with gynecologic cancer surgeon Ginger Gardner, who explained how she would approach the tumor.

Dr. Gardner explained that the tumor could be benign (not cancerous), malignant (cancerous), or borderline (recurrent but slow-growing). She recommended a tissue analysis to get a better look at it. She prepared Vilma for the possibility of ovarian cancer, though Vilma did not have the typical presentation for it.

“In most ovarian cancer patients, there’s also disease in many other areas of the abdomen and pelvis,” Dr. Gardner says.

To analyze the tumor’s tissue, Dr. Gardner told Vilma she would perform a robot-assisted procedure at MSK’s Josie Robertson Surgery Center, which had just opened. Operating rooms in the facility are designed especially for gynecologic, breast, urologic, and head and neck cancer surgeries, with most procedures not requiring an overnight stay.

Dr. Gardner also told Vilma that she’d operate robotically using the da Vinci Surgical System. Dr. Gardner is one of the world’s first gynecologic cancer surgeons trained on this cutting-edge equipment, which allows for smaller incisions and faster recovery.

A Surgery Provides Answers

On the day of surgery, Vilma felt understandably nervous but was comforted as soon as she pulled up to the outpatient surgery center.

“They valet parked my car!” she recalls. “The place is awesome. From the people that greeted me in the lobby to the people upstairs, they were so helpful and so friendly.”

During surgery, Dr. Gardner saw that the mass was in its early stages and removed Vilma’s uterus because ovarian cancer can recur there. Vilma was diagnosed with a clear cell carcinoma of the ovary, a rare subtype of the disease that occurs in less than 5% of ovarian cancer patients.

Vilma's clearly a fighter and she's well on her way to being past this.
Ginger J. Gardner gynecologic surgeon

Vilma was upset, but she was also determined not to let cancer get in the way of her life again. She and Michele had no intention of postponing their wedding a second time.

“We said we’ve planned this twice already [and] the kids are excited,” she recalls. “Why keep putting it off?”

So they made a plan: Michele graciously stepped in to take over planning while Vilma focused on healing. She needed six chemotherapy treatments and was able to receive them at MSK’s Westchester location in West Harrison, New York, close to Michele and the children. Her last treatment was on June 22.

“Vilma’s clearly a fighter and she’s well on her way to being past this,” Dr. Gardner says.

Looking to the Future

Vilma and Michele married on May 28, 2016, in an outdoor ceremony that combined both their Catholic and Native American traditions. The pair had a blast eating, drinking, and dancing with their 100 guests.

With cancer just about in their rear-view mirror, the couple is ready for the road ahead — and confident they can face whatever life sends their way.

“We’ve been through pretty much everything together,” Vilma says.

Treatment for Ovarian Cancer
At Memorial Sloan Kettering, the primary ovarian cancer treatments are surgery and chemotherapy. Learn more about these treatments and new approaches.