Living with Colon Cancer
Mar 11, 2022 Nicole Levine
Lois Buckman values every second of her time. She doesn't spend any of it avoiding hard truths.
"My name is Lois Buckman, and I have stage 4 colon cancer," she says. "I've been living with this for over two years. The reason I'm still here is science, clinical trials and a dream team of doctors."
In April 2020, Lois felt exhausted. For years she flew to Detroit from Los Angeles every couple of weeks to care for her ailing mother. After her mother died, Lois reflected on her busy life. She'd been an executive at a major telecommunications company. She's a mother of three grown daughters. Putting everyone else first was a habit.
"Finally, my girlfriends told me, 'You look like a dish rag,'" she says. "'You've been dragging yourself back and forth across the sky, and you really need to check on yourself.' And they were right, so I went to see my doctor."
Lois noticed her fatigue and some constipation—symptoms she attributed to flying too frequently, the stress of being a caregiver and grief over the loss of her mother. As soon as some test results came back, her doctor called her and told her to go to Cedars-Sinai's Emergency Department immediately.
In an emergency surgery, doctors discovered her colon had been completely blocked by tumors.
"Processing that I had cancer was the hardest reality," she says. "I realized how incredibly unprepared I was to hear such startling news—and that this disease could result in my demise."
She learned from Dr. Zuri Murrell that her chance of surviving the emergency surgery had been only about 25%. She calls him Superman, and refers to her doctors—including Dr. Jun Gong, Dr. Alexandra Gangi, Dr. Daryl Houston and the late Dr. Donald Henderson—as her dream team. They devised a treatment plan paired with bimonthly CT scans to track how the cancer was progressing.
For two months, her condition steadily improved, but then the cancer rebounded. That's when she was offered the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial that would combine chemotherapy with targeted therapy.
"When they asked me how I feel about clinical trials, I said if the trial can help me and others, then that's what we need to do," she says. "I know sometimes, as women of color, we have a tendency to shy away from these things—experimental drugs and trials—but they have the potential to conquer this disease. I don't want women of color left out of that."
"I know sometimes, as women of color, we have a tendency to shy away from these things—experimental drugs and trials—but they have the potential to conquer this disease. I don't want women of color left out of that."
Clinical trials provide the opportunity to develop new and effective treatments to improve cancer outcomes.
"Most—if not all—current cancer therapies have themselves been developed from clinical trials," Dr. Gong says. "We, as clinicians, are deeply indebted to the altruism of patients like Lois."
Over the next several months, Lois continued the regimen, and her cancer has been slowly shrinking.
"As you go through a life-threatening disease, you really understand your mortality. You have choices, and if you have the chance to do better to save yourself and others, then why shouldn't we take that opportunity?" she says.
Lois has long been invested in helping her community. She is currently president of the Regalettes, a nonprofit that has raised money and created programs to support the education and career opportunities for minority communities for over 60 years.
Lois is still in treatment for her cancer. She refers to herself as a "prayer warrior," and connects with others in daily prayer calls. She spends time with her daughter, who attends all her appointments with her. She chooses to focus on the joy in her life, laughing with her friends and connecting with her family.
"I'm an independent thinker. A single mom. I had a great career, and I was never a person that gave up just because it got tough," she says. "I'm living today. I'm grateful every single day I open my eyes."
Her care team notices her gratitude, as well. She's known not only for her great strength and attitude, but also for the delicious cakes she's baked as treats for the cancer center staff.
"She has ultimate gratitude," Dr. Murrell says. "I really believe her attitude and her spirit helped see her through this."
She also values the importance of taking care of herself.
"Something I want to say to people, especially to African American women and women of color, is that we have to put our health first," she says. "We need to pay attention to the signs our body gives us because it's so easy to get caught in a spin of taking care of others."
She tells everyone in her life—especially her daughters and friends—to always prioritize their wellbeing.