Bobby Zarin isn’t letting cancer get him down.
The husband of Real Housewives of New York alum Jill Zarin is recovering from his Nov. 29 Gamma Knife Radiosurgery, which he underwent at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas for the treatment of brain tumors he recently developed.
Just days later, he and Jill flew to Miami for the international art fair, Art Basel. “It’s all about attitude,” Bobby tells PEOPLE. “That’s how we are getting through this. We are being optimistic and very positive.”
Bobby recently learned that his thyroid cancer, which was diagnosed in 2009, had spread to his brain. When he was first diagnosed, he had his thyroid removed and underwent radioactive iodine treatment. “Radioactive iodine treatment works on most patients, but in his case, it didn’t,” says Jill.
But in 2015, Bobby’s thyroid cancer spread to his lungs, which he learned during a routine checkup at the Princeton Longevity Center. “We were very lucky they caught that,” says Jill.
A Terrifying New Diagnosis
This time around, Bobby’s doctor, Stephanie Fish, M.D. at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, was able to catch the brain tumors early by relying on a hunch, says Jill. “That’s why it’s so critical to pick the best team from the get-go, because it’s a doctor who has a hunch that can mean the difference between life and death,” says Jill.
Dr. Fish had been monitoring slight changes in Bobby’s thyroglobulin levels, which are used to monitor patients with thyroid cancer.
“The doctor saw an uptick in the thyroglobulin,” say Jill. “It was moving up a tiny bit every six months. When she looked at a PET scan of his lungs, she didn’t see any growth there. So she said that next she wanted to do an MRI of his brain because if thyroid cancer grows, it can go to the brain.”
Jill and Bobby were vacationing in Hawaii in early November when Dr. Fish called and told Bobby that the cancer had spread from his lungs to his brain. “She said he had five or six tumors in his brain,” says Jill.
“I was hysterically crying and went online and read all kinds of scary things and was completely freaked out,” she says. “We were shocked that it spread to the brain because that is so rare.”
Dr. Fish then ordered Bobby to begin taking steroids and to immediately see a brain surgeon.
Since Jill and Bobby were closer to Houston than to New York at the moment, they flew to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas to consult with doctors about the brain tumors. “They did a spinal tap, a spinal MRI and a brain MRI – all in 24 hours,” says Jill.
She and Bobby learned about the cancer center when a friend, philanthropist Andrew Sabin, called her after seeing a story about Bobby’s cancer diagnosis in the July 13, 2015, issue of PEOPLE. He introduced them to Dr. Ron DePinho, the center’s president, who introduced them to doctors he felt could help Bobby.
After their initial consultation in early November, Jill and Bobby returned to MD Anderson after Thanksgiving, so that Bobby could undergo the Gamma Knife Radiosurgery, in which high-powered beams of radiation are used to precisely target cancerous tumors. “Our newest additions to Team Bobby — Mary McAleer, who is in the department of radiation oncology and Dr. Jeffrey Weinberg, who is a neurosurgeon — are amazing,” says Jill.
While Bobby’s recent diagnosis was difficult to handle, Jill says they remain hopeful about his prognosis. “He is doing well and feels great,” she says. “We are hopeful that we get great news on Jan. 10 when he gets his first post-radiation MRI.”
She and Bobby are grateful for the outpouring of support they have received from family and friends – and strangers alike. “I can’t tell you how much it means to Bobby when he reads comments on social media from fans who care about him,” she says.
Most of all, she says she is thankful for the medical professionals who have helped treat Bobby’s cancer since the beginning. “We are so grateful,” she says. “They gave him back his life.”