By Peter Botros
I am living my dream at the moment.
Born in 1986, I was heavily into and excelled in sports from the age of five. I also always loved cooking with mom and grandmother.
Throughout my entire childhood I remember my mom always being sick. She died of breast cancer when I was 14. This was a very difficult time for my older brother, father and I. For me, I took comfort in sports and work.
Right after my mom passed away, I started working in a local pizzeria, which also did catering. I quickly fell in love with the food/restaurant business. By 16 I was managing the booming pizzeria while being a standout high school athlete. I was 1st Team All City in baseball and one of the top 10 baseball players in New York City. I received an athletic scholarship to Fairleigh Dickinson University in NJ where I earned a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurial studies as well as a double major MBA in marketing and finance. I kept playing baseball too. I also always watched the Food Network and any cooking shows I could find.
While in my sophomore year in college, I bought a failing pizzeria with a family friend and was able to turn the restaurant around in short period of time. I wanted to drop out of college to pursue opening more locations, but my father advised against leaving school. I obeyed his wishes and continued finishing my education and sold my share of the business.
While in school I worked all possible positions in the “front of the house” in some high-end restaurants. My passion for cooking and food continued to grow. After graduating with an MBA, I waited tables, much to the disapproval of my father. He would sarcastically ask me, “Are you still waitressing?” He felt as though I should be putting my higher education to better use. To appease him, I decided to pursue mortgage banking while I continued to wait tables. After about six months, I was doing phenomenally well as a mortgage banker and decided to take a break from the food business.
Then, at the age of 26, I had a bloody discharge from my left nipple. My girlfriend at the time was doing some laundry before our weeklong vacation down the shore. She noticed a little blood on my t-shirt where my breast would be. I was in the shower at the time, so when she came to tell me what she found, I checked my breast. I didn’t see anything, but when I was drying off, I pushed on my chest and a little blood came out.
Like most people, she went on the Internet for some research where you read if you stub your toe, it might be cancer! She wanted me to go to the ER, but I was focused on vacation. She told me if I didn’t get checked out, I’d be going on vacation without her. I compromised and called a family friend who happened to have been my pediatrician. This doctor knew about my mom, and also had breast cancer herself. She sent me for a mammogram immediately after I saw her. Nothing showed up on the mammogram, but during my sonogram, the technician kept snapping photos and more photos. The doctor came in and ordered a needle biopsy on the spot. My family friend was with me too. We were told it would take a few days to get the results, so I left for vacation.
When my friend called me, she asked if I wanted to come home for the results or hear the news over the phone. I was diagnosed with breast cancer on August 25, 2012. I tried to hide the news from my friends while we were away, but I guess I didn’t do such a good job.
At first, I also tried to hide my diagnosis from my father, but everything backfired when my insurance company decided to drop my coverage. I had scheduled my surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering, but three days later I got a call canceling the procedure because my insurance had retroactively canceled my policy. Since I was 26 at the time, I had been on my father’s plan instead of the insurance offered at my mortgage job. I never received notification from the insurance company stating I had reached the maximum age for coverage under my father’s plan. Everything was eventually resolved, and covered, but it meant my father would need to know what was happening.
When I told my father about everything going on, he was incredibly sad and angry at the same time. He wanted to punch me in the face for not telling him about my breast cancer. I just didn’t want to put him through this again. I have however successfully kept this secret from grandmother, my mom’s mother. I don’t see any benefit in her hearing about me having breast cancer too.
Although I was negative for a BRCA mutation, I had a bilateral mastectomy. The doctors had explained my options for surgery, but all I kept thinking about was everything my mom had been through, all the side effects. I elected for the much harsher surgery, since I was told I wouldn’t need any additional treatment right now.
I was always OK with my Stage 1 DCIS diagnosis. The people around me had a much harder time handling the news. My friends were very emotional, and that was the hardest part for me.
After kicking cancer’s ass, I was left with a burning desire to get back to what I loved, the restaurant business. A few months after my surgery, a friend told me about an amazing opportunity where I could be part of a restaurant in the center of Clove Lakes Park in Staten Island. I did everything in my power to make sure I could get the deal done and buy the restaurant of my dreams.
Since buying The Stone house at Clove Lakes, with the help of my incredible staff, we have become the top restaurant and event venue on Staten Island. I have also opened a restaurant within the restaurant called Chef’s Loft. We provide an intimate 16 seat dining experience featuring a five-course wine pairing dinner, which changes every month. A chef, usually me, prepares the entire meal in view of the guests. Plus, we have a Himalayan sea salt wall!
I am truly living my dream. I’m at my restaurant seven days a week. My doctors check me every six months. I have never had a doubt I would beat cancer!