'No longer is lung cancer synonymous with death.' Survivor completes Ironman race
A Lanoka Harbor man is living proof that it is possible to beat lung cancer.
Not only did 69-year-old Don Cooper survive, but he also went on to live out his goal of finishing his first full Ironman race.
Cooper crossed the finish line at Ironman Maryland at 11:32 p.m. on Sept. 17. The final leg of the race – the 26.2-mile run – took him six hours.
“The last 3 or 4 miles of the run, I knew I had it,” Cooper says. “I pushed on that run the last couple miles. I felt the best I felt all day.”
Cooper also swam 2.4 miles and biked 112 miles. He completed the race only 1 ½ years after surviving two illnesses – either of which could have killed him.
Simply making it to Maryland was questionable for Cooper. He first had to spend some time at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.
While training, and in the best shape of his life, he learned he needed bypass surgery to clear four arteries. Doctors then diagnosed him with lung cancer.
“When I would go out for a run, the first couple of miles I had to struggle. The breathing wasn’t right,” Cooper says.
It was hindering his training, so he had it checked out.
"When I had the test done for the bypass, they found out the nodule on my lung had gotten bigger,” Cooper says.
Dr. Thomas Bauer had also competed in Ironman races and knew Cooper wanted to keep training at a high level.
“He had presented with a small lesion found through careful screening,” says Bauer.
Cooper was treated with a minimally invasive procedure that had him home 24 hours later.
"No longer is lung cancer synonymous with death. It is an opportunity to be cured and continue on stronger as a result of it actually,” says Bauer.
Bauer and Cooper's family say it was that goal to finish the Ironman and the persistence to put the cancer behind him and train that helped Cooper get through it all. And Cooper says he will compete in another Ironman race.
“The goal is to get faster and more aggressive at my swimming,” he says.
Bauer says Cooper is an inspiration for his perseverance through discomfort while facing a life-changing illness.