Meet Dr. Ivan Kos, a New York City clinical psychologist and state department management consultant in Croatia. Following a diagnosis with non-small cell lung cancer, he enrolled in a CRI-funded Cancer Vaccine Collaborative clinical trial headed by Dr. Nasser K. Altorki, a principal investigator at the New York Hospital Cornell Medical Center. Here, Dr. Kos tells us his thoughts about how the vaccine trial and his passion for tae kwon do helped him to fight cancer.
CRI: You have something in common with the Golden Fleece.
Ivan: I was born in beautiful Istria, on the Adriatic; the legendary treasure of the Greeks came from there too, but that was quite a few years before my time.
CRI: You seem to have done well for yourself.
Ivan: What I like best is that my work is never boring. Whether I’m at my mental-health clinic in Brooklyn or running a management workshop through the State Department in Croatia, there’s always some new challenge, some new opportunity,
How has lung cancer affected your work?
Surgery knocked me out for a while, otherwise I’ve stayed busy. The real change hasn’t been in my work, it’s been in me. During chemo, for example, when I lost my hair, my patients at the clinic were wonderfully supportive; I was touched, brought down from the grandiosity of my position. I’m glad I got cancer, in a way; it’s made me a better person.
CRI: As a doctor, what did you think of your vaccine trial?
Ivan: A doctor should keep in mind how vulnerable it feels to be a patient; Dr. Altorki did. He was authoritative without being aloof, not on a power trip; that gave me a sense of security and trust. He and his people let me keep my dignity and self-respect, too; I felt like part of the team. Aside from that, simply taking a vaccine to boost my immune system was empowering.
Worrying about cancer makes things worse. This way, I was doing something, taking action, instead of sitting back and being passive. All too often we are doodlers instead of doers. We dwell on past failures, what’s wrong now, what may not go well in the future. What’s the outcome of that? Inability, feeling weak in every way, and missing your life.
CRI: You believe that the mind influences the body?
Ivan: No doubt about it. Fear leads to stress, which weakens the immune system. If you feed fear, you produce more fear, more stress, and greater susceptibility. You’re more likely to get a disease, and your case is likely to be a worse one.
It’s probably no accident that you have a black belt in tae kwon do.
The sport is much more than power kicks, it’s about integrating mind and body in a focused, positive way; “when mind and body are together,” they say, “nothing is impossible.” I didn’t miss a day at the dojang even during chemo.