Roger Brown knew instantly something was wrong.
“I had acid reflux two days in a row,” the trainer said. “I said I have to go to the doctor because I had never had anything like that before. Had I not had the insurance here at Parx, I would have manned up and went and gotten a couple of pills over the counter. And I’d have ended up dying.”
But as a Parx-based trainer, he did have no cost medical insurance, funded through a portion of the proceeds from the slot machines at Parx Casino and administered by the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.
“So the doctor said ‘let’s go scope you,’” Brown said. “They scoped me and I had two tumors on my esophagus. Only a 5 percent cure rate. I was very lucky they caught it early. I did 30 treatments of radiation and chemotherapy, got operated on and I’m alive to tell you about it.”
Brown was diagnosed in June 2017. He was operated on at Jefferson Hospital Oct. 13, 2017. He is now cancer free.
He was telling his story on a bench just behind the Parx winner’s circle on April 28, the same winner’s circle he had inhabited moments before when Letthemooseloose, the 4-year-old filly he co-owned and trained, closed relentlessly to win the fourth race by a head.
Brown had bought the filly nearly three years before at Keeneland for $3,500. The win brought her career earnings to $56,120 and she was claimed from the race for $25,000, a racing success story, a perfect metaphor for Brown himself, a man who has beaten the odds.
The cancer was not his only health issue. He had an infected intestine, underwent surgery on July 4 and had a colostomy bag until Jan. 2.
“And the last 10 years, I went to the gym every day and worked out,” Brown said. “I was in the best shape of my life.”
He finally got back into the gym in March.
“I’m on the comeback, but man is it a slow trail,” Brown said. “I got stripped of 100 pounds of muscle. I’m just a rack of skin and bones.”
When asked to estimate the cost of his treatment without insurance, Brown said: “I had two friends that were diagnosed about the same time as me with esophageal cancer. They’re both dead. I was diagnosed really early because I had insurance.”
And because he had insurance, he was not worried about cost so he went right to the doctor. Before he brought his stable to Parx five years ago, Brown never had medical insurance through a race track program for a simple reason. It is only available in Pennsylvania.
“That’s why I’m here,” Brown said. “I drive an hour and a half a day to work.”
Brown, who lives five minutes from the North Jersey shore, trained horses 45 years ago, took 25 years off to drive a horse truck and then came back to training.
In 2012, he won with 25 percent of his starters. From 2012 to 2017, he had 120 winners. Then, when he was diagnosed, the stable really struggled, winning just two races in six months.
He has been back to the barn for 60 days other than the week he spent in the hospital with a heart ailment.
“Three weeks ago, my chest was killing me, went to the emergency room,: Brown said. “I had A-Fib (Atrial Fibrillation). My heart was beating 200 miles a minute…I’d never been sick a day in my life until all this happened. I got whamboozled.”
Yes, he did. He is on medication for the heart situation. The drugs make him tired.
“But I’m going to get through it all,” Brown said.
He is now a self-described preacher.
“I preach about this insurance policy,” Brown said. “I preach to other trainers if there is something wrong with you, get your ass to the doctor. You can’t man up enough. You’re not that tough.”
– By Dick Jerardi