Dr. Anne Koplin, a psychiatrist, co-founder and medical director at Waukesha-based IPC Research, has become the definition of living life in the moment. She doesn’t schedule meetings or appointments more than a few weeks in advance, and she doesn’t plan ahead for the vacations that she loves to take either.
She can’t. She knows all too well what it feels like to know she might not be here tomorrow.
Koplin was diagnosed in 2006 with terminal lung cancer. She wasn’t supposed to live more than a few months.
“I was living the dream, I had three wonderful kids, a husband who worked as an emergency room doctor and a new business that was up and running and was something I truly loved to do,” she said.
Koplin and Dr. Cary Kohlenberg opened IPC Research in 2003. IPC Research is an independent clinical research office that specializes in placebo-controlled clinical research, and research on psychological and physical disorders and diseases that affect mental health and memory.
Koplin went to a regularly scheduled annual checkup in December 2005. It was an appointment that would change her life forever.
“I felt completely fine. It was an annual checkup just like I get every year,” Koplin said.
She did have a very slight pain in her upper right leg, and technicians at the doctor’s office wanted to do a scan of the leg.
“Traditionally, I guess they do pelvic and abdominal ultrasounds,” Koplin said. “I only needed a pelvic ultrasound because the pain was in my leg, but encouraged them to do what they normally do.”
The technician’s decision to perform a pelvic/abdominal ultrasound probably saved Koplin’s life. The ultrasound included the lower tip of her lung, which revealed a black mass. The doctors thought it looked benign, but Koplin, then 49, knew better.
Her mother had died at the age of 69 within four months of her own lung cancer diagnosis. Her mother’s twin sister died of the same cause. Koplin sensed the prognosis was bad.
“I knew right away it wouldn’t work, but the doctors put me on six weeks of antibiotics, to try to get rid of the mass,” Koplin said. “I stopped after four weeks and told them I wanted it taken out.”
Koplin underwent surgery to remove a lobe of her lung. Following surgery, she underwent six months of intense chemotherapy.
“This rocked everyone’s world,” Koplin said. “I was living the highlife over here, and then all of a sudden this happens. No one could believe it.”
Koplin took the next eight months off of work, and really counted on her business partner and her other employees to step up. They did.
“I just decided to check out, and really just took care of myself,” she said. “Some people need their work to get through something like this. I love my work, but I really had no bravado or issues just stepping back. It was really the last thing on my mind. I thought I was dying. People understood, and they really stepped up in a big way.”
Koplin was completely open about the diagnosis and felt so helpless at times she wanted to give up.
“All of the toxins in my body forced me to become hopeless and suicidal, I kept thinking my life was over and why should I even go through this,” Koplin said. “Lung cancer is a very lonely place. There are very few survivors to talk to. It was my friends and family who saved me. They saw me at my darkest and never left me.”
In August 2006, Koplin came back to work with a wig. She began traveling for work again and has now adjusted to life back in the office.
“There was a time where I thought I would never leave my street again,” Koplin said. “Now I’ve settled in, I have a better sense of calm and I’ve really learned how to prioritize and take care of myself.”
Koplin gets a check up every six months, and has been cancer-free since her surgery.
Her company is doing better than ever and has secured a niche for itself in the areas of geriatrics and Alzheimer medication clinical testing.
Since her diagnosis, Koplin has traveled leisurely to Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Israel and many other places. She threw a huge birthday party for herself in New York City when she turned 50.
“I just want to keep going,” she said. “It can be difficult, though. People want to plan ahead, and I tell them I can’t do that. They can write it in their books or do what they want, but still to this day, I can’t plan that far in advance because I know that even though I may feel great and look OK, that really means absolutely nothing.” n