By Catherine Mirra

Last week, CNN held a Cancer Awareness Panel at Time Warner Center in New York City. A panel of experts was assembled (seen above from left to right), including: Elizabeth Cohen, senior medical correspondent for CNN's Health, Medical and Wellness unit; Dr. Komal Jhaveri, MD, medical oncologist with The Cancer Institute at NYU Langone;  Zoraida Sambolin, CNN anchor; and Gail Ward, a Registered Nurse with Optum Health.

The event began with an introduction from Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, who spoke of his own experience with cancer. Zucker, diagnosed twice with colon cancer in his early 30s, emphasized the importance of keeping the conversation about cancer open. “If I can help one other person and give them insight into what I went through at a young age, I’m happy to do that,” said Zucker.

Zoraida Sambolin learned of her breast cancer diagnosis while picking up her son from school. She walked the audience through each stage of her experience with cancer - from the support she received from coworkers, friends and family, the research that led to her treatment decision, why she decided to opt for breast reconstruction, and life in recovery. She also participated in cancer support groups, saying, “Sharing my story gave me strength. Every time I shared my story, I got something back.”

Dr. Komal Jhaveri and Gail Ward weighed in on cancer support groups, noting that previously, cancer support groups were an additional supplement to treatment. Today, they’re widely viewed as an essential component to treatment. They also shared insight about breast cancer and overall cancer prevention and detection. One of the most important things is to have a primary care physician that knows you well. Eat fruits and vegetables, get plenty of sleep, and exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. If you have any odd symptoms for more than two weeks - for example, if you’re losing weight without trying - consult your doctor.

Take advantage of any free cancer screenings at your office or in your community. While doctors advise women to start getting mammograms at age 40, that doesn’t mean you can’t start earlier. Sometimes genetics predispose us to cancer. If you have a family history of cancer or breast cancer, talk to your doctor about participating in cancer screenings, getting mammograms before age 40, and whether you should have an ultrasound to further detect any presence of cancer.

While it’s important to take preventative measures against cancer, sometimes there isn’t a concrete reason as to why a certain patient has cancer. Zoraida said she exercised frequently, ate healthy, avoided red meat and ate a lot of fish, and didn’t smoke. Luckily, she received regular mammograms, which allowed her doctors to detect her cancer in the early stages.

Dr. Jhaveri shared a helpful tip from The American Cancer Society, who uses the word C-A-U-T-I-O-N to help people recognize the seven early signs of cancer:

Change in bowel or bladder habits

A sore that does not heal

Unusual bleeding or discharge

Thickening or lump in the breast, testicles, or elsewhere

Indigestion or difficulty swallowing

Obvious change in the size, color, shape, or thickness of a wart, mole, or mouth sore

Nagging cough or hoarseness

The panelists also stressed the importance of taking time to choose the treatment that’s right for you. Research your options, talk to other cancer survivors about their treatment decisions, and consult your physician. Dr. Jhaveri said most patients rush treatment decisions, and usually have more time to make these decisions than they think. 

See photos from the event below.

Employees gather in the Time Warner Center Screening Room

Employees gather in the Time Warner Center Screening Room

Gail Ward shares insights during the panel discussion

Gail Ward shares insights during the panel discussion

Catherine Mirra is Manager, Corporate Communications, for Time Warner Inc.