Deborah Cohan, M.D. is a loving mother, joyous dancer, compassionate physician, and subtly mischievous rabble-rouser spreading the messages of joy, interconnectedness, and love. As a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UCSF and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFG), Deborah runs HIVE, a hub of sexual and reproductive wellness for pregnant women and others living with HIV. Deborah was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44. A dancer all her life, she danced the day of her diagnosis and nearly every day throughout her treatment, including in the operating room immediately prior to her bilateral mastectomy. A video of the intraop flash mob taped by the anesthesiologist and posted by a friend unbeknownst to her on YouTube during her surgery went viral and instigated a pop-up social movement of joy and healing through dance. Upon completing chemotherapy, Deborah founded Foundation for Embodied Medicine, teaching body awareness, conscious movement, and embodied presence to patients and medical providers.
Meeting Izzy: How Cancer Saved My Life
On the day of her breast cancer diagnosis, Deborah Cohan, a physician, HIV researcher and mother of 2, realized this cancer could become her greatest teacher. She named her cancer Izzy and invited the cancer to teach her about living life fully. Izzy’s first lesson was that dance would be Deborah’s most potent medicine. Deborah danced her sorrow, her confusion, her fear of death and, in doing so, created space to dance her joy and exuberant love of life. She wanted her community to join her in this celebration of life, so hosted a virtual flash mob to Beyonce’s “Get Me Bodied” just before her double mastectomy. The OR team joined in the dance and a video captured by the anesthesiologist went viral, with over 8 million views to-date. Izzy’s second lesson was that we are all interconnected. People worldwide, from Louisiana to India, Rwanda, Norway and the Canary Islands, became inspired to dance and created copy-cat videos. Other patients have since started dancing in the OR before their surgeries.
Living Fearlessly and Other Ways to Prepare for Surgery
Before her double mastectomy, Deborah Cohan, a physician, HIV researcher and mother of 2, prepared her body to say yes to surgery. She danced the day of her breast cancer diagnosis and nearly every day leading up to her surgery. Deborah consciously explored her fear of death through dance and gained perspective that her dancer cells were plentiful and cancer cells were few. The day before her surgery, she joyfully danced, over and over again, to Beyonce’s “Get Me Bodied”. This “somatic imprinting” linked the song to joy in her body. Deborah then invited her friends and family to dance to “Get Me Bodied” wherever they happened to be at 7:30am on November 5, 2013. Instead of being cowered in fear, Deborah walked into the operating room unmedicated and danced ecstatically with her surgical team, feeling intimately connected to her community who joined her virtually in this dance. Not only did Deborah feel fully prepared for surgery, but also the surgical team was energized and jubilant. Other patients, from children to the elderly, have since started dancing in the OR before their surgeries.