307: Maintaining a Fighter’s Mindset While Battling Disease

This week’s conversation is special. It’s heavy, it’s rich, and it will change you. It’s a two-parter, recorded on two separate occasions, about a year apart.

It’s with Corey Coopersmith, known professionally as PunkTheBunny – he’s a singer/songwriter and producer.

Born and raised in New York, Corey was a competitive grappler and MMA fighter prior to embarking on his journey with music.

For some background, I worked professionally with Corey, over a decade ago, in his MMA days. And let me tell you, he may not be doing it professionally anymore, but he IS a fighter. That’s just who he is.

In March of 2020, Corey was hit with COVID19 and it left him with chronic symptoms… for over a YEAR.

Part 1 of this episode was recorded in January of 2021. At that point, he had been suffering symptoms from “long haul COVID” for 10 months already… or so we thought.

Even after we recorded Part 1, Corey kept getting sicker and sicker, and no one could figure out why.

We stayed in touch after our conversation and then I connected him with one of our Finding Mastery guests, Dr. Fajgenbaum, – a ground breaking immunologist out of the University of Pennsylvania.

In Part 2, we catch up and dive into what Corey’s journey has been like over the past year. I don’t want to say too much and spoil his amazing story, but his fighter mindset and insights shine through.

I’m so honored to introduce Corey to you.

“There’s no one trying to solve this [sickness] harder than I am. And it would make sense when you know my whole story why I’m obsessively trying to figure this out, fight, and survive.”

In This Episode:

Part 1 (January 2021)

His early symptoms

It’s weird because when you look back we don’t know if I got hit with two different things at once. We don’t really know. Luckily I get bloodwork done all the time because I’m really analytical. And in February, things were off. But it was really weird, I was catching neurological symptoms and like my ears were ringing and I felt funny. And I kept being like, “Man, I don’t feel right.” And I had very strange symptoms that didn’t seem like what they were saying COVID was, usually like the flu at the time. And it didn’t seem like anything else. And I went and ran a couple of labs early and everything was normal, so I was like whatever, and I pushed through. I would catch little fevers towards the end of February. My body temperature go to 100 and I was like, “What?”

The difference between being fit and being healthy

My whole life was fitness, and fighting, and health. I mean that’s my whole life, was that. And I’ve always gotten away with it because of being fit. And that’s a whole nother thing we’ll go into where going through this I realized it’s a mistake to think that healthy is the same as fit. And I think that that’s a mistake I made. And I got away with a lot of shit because I was fit. So yeah, I had abs, and I could go run six miles. But I didn’t sleep great all the time, I pushed all the time. My whole life has been that.

What his blood work was showing at the time

If you looked at my bloodwork right now, no one knows what… It doesn’t look good. As much as I look like maybe I’m semi-healthy right now, maybe. Even though I’ve lost like 20 pounds. My bloodwork looks like… Truth, like not to be morbid, but like I’m slowly dying, and it’s not good. I’ve got low T-cells, almost no B-cells, which are how you make antibodies. They don’t know why. I have really high inflammatory markers that are scary high, and they don’t know why. And it’s only getting worse, not better since COVID.

How Corey met Dr. Mike

I got hooked up with Velocity which was a training center for a lot of pro athletes and stuff, and got connected with you. And I mean it the work that I did with you changed my life to where everything I’ve gone through including this that I’m going through, so many things of the work you made me do, I use and I think of day… I mean are embedded. And it wasn’t just stuff you said, it was stuff you got me to say at an age… I was like 20. At an age where I didn’t know that that was… All this ego, and all this stuff, and I didn’t know. And you’re the first guy like cry. You know you got me to really cry. I mean like snot nose cry, heavy shit, and acknowledge that I was afraid of being a phony. I’ll never forget it. It was in a nutshell my biggest issue I’ve always had, probably. And you got, whatever work we were doing. It was like an exorcism. I’ll never forget it.

Asking the right questions

Another thing I think is important as a young person to learn, which I learned, which I can go into how, is how to formulate and ask the right question. Doing that develops mentorship with people like that, even when they’re ornery, and they won’t be ornery with you. And I’ve learned that firsthand. And I can attest to that… I grew up being taught that the smartest kid in class wasn’t the one with the right answer, it was the one with the best question.

What has Corey lost during this fight against his disease?

Material, I’ve lost everything. I had to get rid of my car, I had to get rid of my mic. I had a really, really expensive mic I had to sell. I had to leave my place. I lost my place, another place. I had a really, really nice place that I had worked really hard for that I had to leave. I lost my health. I lost my quality of life. The ability to do things, simple things like breathe. When I’m talking, I don’t even hear the hoarseness in my voice. Right now it’s not horrible, but it’s like this inflammation that goes from my stomach all the way up to my throat, and it gets to the point by nighttime where I literally have a hard time breathing. And just that, just not realizing how special it is to not realize you can just breathe air, to just be able to breathe air without thinking about it. I have to think about it. I have to consciously think about breathing when I try to go for a walk.

What has he gained?

I have gained so much wisdom and appreciation for such simple things that I was too ambitious for before. I couldn’t be bothered with going for a walk because I had to work on this music, or I had to do this or that. I would say if I could go back, the lesson that I’ve learned from this is, it’s a huge mistake, in my opinion, to think you’ve got to fill this hole. There’s this hole that you’re trying to fill. “I’m going to be a famous fighter, I’m going to be a famous musician, I’m going to…” It’s like this kid that never grew up that’s got to fill  hole. And when I do, it’ll all be better. And it’s not true.

What advice would he give his younger self?

[Growing up, I thought], “Man, you’ve got a playground given to you, and none of it is good enough because you need to be this thing, and if you’re not this thing, you’re nothing.” And it’s a joke, it’s not real. None of that is real. And if I could get to the other side of what I’m going through, I’m so grateful either way, but I’m so grateful because whenever it comes, and I’ll do everything I can to get there, what I know now, what I get now about what it’s about, oh, man, dude, it’s simple. It’s so simple.

From Part 2 (December 2021)

Finding out he has Stage 4 cancer

I call UCLA. I find out my insurance sometimes does these one time approvals without a state. And mine does it with Stanford and UCLA. So I just scramble. I’m you know, I’m scrambling every day is like another day, that this shit is spreading in my body… I get on the call with an oncologist, Dr. Shin. This guy is the most amazing angel human ever, shoutout Dr. Shin, and gets on a call with me. Within four minutes of the conversation goes, “Corey, I’m going to say 95% you have lymphoma. No CT scan yet. No biopsy yet, just a conversation… I go do a CT scan, come to find out it’s everywhere. Lung stomach. My entire spleen was diseased, stage four. Whole spleen was completely replaced with multifocal disease. So it was just tumors my spleen, so my spleen wasn’t working. Get a biopsy, Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Very rare disease, like super rare. Usually young people with more active immune systems. So he calls me and he is like, it’s cancer, it’s stage four.

His chemotherapy experience

When I started the third day, I got really bad bronchial inflammation, and you can still hear I have a hoarse voice. My voice was almost gone, I could barely talk. I was really looking forward to singing, because after the first chemo I’m like, “Oh I can make music through this. This is going to be great. I’ll just fucking ride out those three days, and then I’ll make music and this’ll be fucking great.” Voice was gone. I mean gone to where I was scared. Like, I couldn’t talk. Then it kind of was coming back, and I got hit really hard that round. I mean, I just felt like I got electrocuted, like my whole brain and my body. But again, after about four days you kind of shake it off and then I felt great. Other than the voice, that was gone still, but just my energy. So we do another round at that higher dose, and I wake up with what feels like bronchitis. My lungs feel really inflamed. Voice is shot, shot, and I’m really fucked up. I can’t walk good. My balance is off. I feel kind… My nervous system got really wrecked.

Cancer free, but still dealing with side effects

I can’t walk well right now. I have days where I’m falling in the shower. I have to try to get home care. I can’t talk good. My hands go numb. I’m having really strange vascular issues. I had to have neck surgery two weeks after my last chemo. Emergency surgery because of the Nuepogen shots. And they caused all this damage in my spine. I’m all kinds of fucked up, and you want to celebrate, right? You want to say, oh, I’m… Because by the way, cancer free. We beat that shit. So no cancer for now, according to my PET scan it’s all gone.

Keeping the fighter’s mindset

I have a GoFundMe, which I was really reluctant to do, which we did during chemo. Like I said, the Airbnbs alone were five grand for a week and a half while you’re in LA and then we’re going back and forth. But no, there is no victim here. We are going to fight until we beat it, everything, and I’m back hiking and walking and running and laughing and I’m able to function or I’m going to die trying. That’s it. That’s what I’ve done through all of this. I haven’t stopped. I’m not going to stop now.

Gratitude and simplicity

With everything I’ve been through, the biggest message I would say is gratitude on a daily fucking basis and simplify. Like psychotically simplify and watch how much happier you’ll be. Like an antidepressant.

Rearranging his priorities

I could do the same thing again [spend 12 hours a day in a music studio]. And I really could, but I know how unbalanced it makes me. And with everything I went through when I just got sick, I didn’t give a shit about that. I cared about walking. I cared about breathing. I cared about eating. I cared about being able to laugh and hug people. I’m not fucking around. I’m not being dramatic. I’m not being romantic. I genuinely, I tell people this, anyone I can speak to. You will not give a fuck about any of that shit when you are really staring at death. You won’t, you’ll care about people you love.

Looking back, and looking forward

I regretted not going for more walks. All I want to do is go for a fucking walk. And when I was able to, during chemo, it’s like my dog. Who I had to give away because I was so sick. But you see a dog. That is the happiest time in their life, you take them for a walk. Just go for a walk, get sun on your face. I didn’t look back and go… All I looked back and I thought, I wish I walked more. I wish I laughed more. I wish I spent way more time with my father. I wish I spent way more time with my good friends. And I fucking mean that with every cell in my fucking body. And my only thing keeping me going, where I’m still fucking fighting, because I’m going to get there or die trying. Is so I could do that shit, not so I can make another song and be all alone and obsessed with myself. It’s so I can do that because that’s what I think life is about.

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