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County Treasurer facing more health issues

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — June 22, 2010 — In his 65 years, Ira Cohen’s been in a motorcycle accident; endured surgeries on his knees, wrist and heart; and still has a broken bone in his neck.
Two years ago, he underwent a kidney transplant, only to watch his coworker and kidney donor, Nancy Buck, struggle with a life-threatening post-surgery complication.
Both survived, however, and Cohen, the county treasurer, seemed to thrive despite the lingering effects of all those injuries.
“I have no pain,” he said.
Until this March, when he suffered a quite painful attack of acute pancreatitis.
Subsequent tests showed three lesions on his pancreas, forcing an immediate trip to an oncologist.
“They were telling me I had pancreatic cancer,” Cohen recalled.
Though responsible for a relatively small amount of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. each year, pancreatic cancer is one of the more lethal types. That’s because it’s not often caught in time, usually having spread to other organs.
But in Cohen’s case, several 1-centimeter tumors within those lesions have actually given him some hope.
“The cell structure of the cancer I have is vastly different than normal pancreatic cancer,” he explained in an interview on Thursday.
Called osteoclast-like undifferentiated giant cell tumors, the tiny tumors “could be less aggressive and have a greater chance of success in treatment.”
“We look at it as good news,” Cohen remarked, referencing his family and doctors.
But with only 50 similar cases ever reported worldwide, Cohen’s medical team is not at all certain of a particular outcome.
They have, however, discovered that the cancer seems confined to the pancreas, and so Cohen will have yet another organ removed from his body in surgery scheduled for July 7 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
He expects to be out of work for at least a month, with Buck taking over his duties in the Government Center (and Cohen, not surprisingly, staying connected via computer).
More importantly, he expects to be back at work by the end of the summer – despite what he acknowledged will be a difficult surgery and recovery. After all, the loss of his pancreas will render him instantly diabetic, and this is all complicated by the immuno-suppressant drugs he’s on due to the kidney transplant.
“I happen to have an uncle who’s 10 years past pancreatic cancer surgery,” Cohen noted.
That optimism has suffused his conversations the past few days, first with his doctors and wife, then with his four children and extended family, now with the County Legislature, his staff and the press.
His noticeable weight loss and haggard appearance have stirred concern, but Cohen’s not sure that’s related to his cancer. And short of a sudden sour taste with any food he eats, the longtime attorney and county politician doesn’t actually feel that bad.
“My glass is always half-full,” he admitted with a smile. “I am still relatively asymptomatic.”
And he’s ready for yet another trip to the hospital.
“It’s just another inconvenience,” he related matter-of-factly. “I’m just not ready yet to say that I’m done.”

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