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Photo of Ira N.

Ira is an attorney at a nonprofit where he helps patients overcome barriers to care through civil legal services. In 2022, he started experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath and visited his doctor. After multiple meetings with doctors and many tests, Ira was diagnosed with stomach cancer. “My whole world basically fell apart at that point in time.”

In addition to his diagnosis, Ira faced other challenges, including a broken leg, staying at a subacute rehab facility and coping with the recent loss of his father. One side of him experienced depression and sadness while another side gradually built strength and resilience. “It was two Iras battling it out and it was almost on a daily basis. At one point going forward, the strong Ira took over but the other Ira was still there. It comes and goes every once in a while, but the strong Ira took over and that’s the Ira that prevailed.”

Part of his treatment plan involved chemotherapy, which resulted in side effects including nausea, fatigue, neuropathy, digestive issues and hair loss. The physical challenges of diagnosis and treatment also came with emotional challenges. “I was tired emotionally and physically. A lot of what you go through with having cancer is the emotional, mental terrain. Sometimes, that can be worse than the physical.”

Ira also had surgery to remove his stomach as part of his treatment. During recovery, Ira faced challenges, including pain, weight loss, changes in his eating habits and daily life. He also felt like he was on an “emotional roller coaster.” Words from his surgeon helped him gain perspective. “He told me that the surgery is a sprint, but the recovery is the marathon.”

More scans and tests after Ira’s surgery eventually led doctors to declare “no evidence of disease.” Many people at this stage experience mixed emotions and fear of recurrence. Ira continues to have a positive outlook. “I’m not letting it consume my life. I’m going out and doing things and I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Self-advocacy, including getting second opinions, asking questions and expressing his feelings about treatment decisions played an important role in Ira’s cancer experience. “If you need a second opinion, get a second opinion, get a third opinion and ask questions. Don’t think you’re being difficult. If you’re asking a question, if you have to ask it a second or third time, ask it. You have to feel comfortable in your treatment and ask those questions.”

Ira’s vast support network of family, friends, colleagues, medical staff, Facebook groups and others was essential. “You can’t do this alone and there’s no shame in asking people for support,” he advises. “No matter how strong you are, no matter what type of cancer you have, no matter what stage you’re at, you really need that support.”

CancerCare’s individual counseling and support groups for patients and post-treatment survivors provided professional support and a like-minded community. “I really needed someone to talk to who had the expertise in this area of helping others with cancer. I knew I couldn’t do it alone.”

As an attorney working with patients, Ira has clients who are affected by cancer. His cancer experience provided a new perspective on this work. “They might have a different type of cancer but when they start bringing up neuropathy, they start bringing up chemotherapy, they start bringing up interactions with their doctors, I know what they’re going through.”

Ira’s experience with cancer also gave him a new perspective on life and what matters most to him, like family and friends, attending his niece’s wedding and getting meaningful tattoos. “Don’t put things off. Appreciate life more. Do things in the moment. Tell people how you feel.”

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