The keynote speaker at the CURE® Patient-Focused Sessions at the Annual New York Lung Cancers Symposium® heeded warning signs and urges others to do the same.
When it hurt Nancy Cohen to breathe, she headed to her doctor, figuring she had pneumonia. In less than 48 hours, she got news that would change the rest of her life: She had lung cancer.
The diagnosis blindsided Cohen, a nonsmoker who also had been exercising regularly to lose weight. “I was literally in the best shape of my life. I was just in disbelief,” she says. “I joked with my friends and family that it’s the special kind (of lung cancer).”
As the keynote speaker at the CURE® Patient-Focused Sessions at the Annual New York Lung Cancers Symposium® on Nov. 9, Cohen shared details of her lung cancer journey with other patients and their caregivers. In an interview with CURE ®, she discussed her new normal and what she hopes others take away from her keynote lecture.
CURE®: What ran through your mind when you heard “You have cancer”?
Cohen: The first month was very much a roller coaster because we went from meeting with surgeons, sort of figuring that we could cut it out and be done with it, to going for many more tests and finding out that (my lung cancer) had metastasized to both my lymph nodes and my brain. So, no more surgery (as an option) and on to different treatments instead.
How did you cope with the new normal of cancer?
That has changed throughout the year. I made several decisions pretty early on. The first was to be relatively open with pretty much everyone about what was going on. I decided that partly because I was the president of my synagogue, and I had board meetings to run or that I was missing. Rather than hide what was going on, I was really very forthcoming about it. I decided that the stress of figuring out who knew and who didn’t would be greater than just telling everyone. The new normal to me was being on the receiving end of kindness and help that I’m usually on the giving end of. That’s been something that I now gratefully accept.
You spoke at the New York Lung patient meeting. What did you cover in your keynote address?
One of the messages that I think, especially for women, is so important is to listen to your body. I mean, I had this pain (under my arm) and I called the doctor. I could have ignored it and then the cancer would have just kept going. Go to the right doctor. Had I just called someone over the phone and said, “It hurts when I take a breath,” and they gave me antibiotics without a chest X-ray, which hopefully no doctor would ever do ... The pain in my chest and under my arm actually went away with the antibiotics because there was some inflammation that was compounded or caused by the tumor. That, too, would not have gotten me to where I am. So that’s really the first thing.
My three big things: Listen to your body, gracefully accept help, and make sure what you’re doing matters, and I don’t mean matters in a global way. I mean, that we all, not just patients with cancer, have X amount of energy per day, and I try hard to make sure I’m using that energy the way that I want to use it, in productive ways.
Why do you think meetings like this are helpful for patients and their loved ones?
I think the sense of community is very impor- tant. I’m part of a support group, and I think that it’s crucial, because (having cancer) can feel very lonely, and it is. So, there’s the community. I think that it is so important for the physicians to share information and for the patients to share information.
What do you hope others take away from your address?
I think positivity is really important — and community.