Brian Wogensen is a high school English teacher and department chair at a private school for girls in Los Angeles. In 2005, his wife, Liz Ganem, was diagnosed with breast cancer, five weeks after learning that she was pregnant. Seven years after the successful completion of treatment—and the healthy birth of their son—Liz was diagnosed with and treated for a new breast cancer.
Patrick Norris is a television director who in 2003 was diagnosed with Stage III non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. In today’s episode, Patrick recounts the central role his wife, Jody, played in helping him find the right treatment and how he wore the same comforting shirt during each of his chemotherapy treatments. Patrick talks about losing his sobriety of 18 years during chemotherapy, and his subsequent search to find meaning and purpose by connecting with others who are in treatment for cancer and providing them with a measure of comfort and hope.
Cecily Young’s husband, John Ruble, underwent a bone marrow transplant as treatment for leukemia in 2005. Cecily talks about providing for her husband’s wellbeing, as well as that of their young son, during his treatment and recovery. Using the metaphor of herself as a ship’s captain, she envisioned herself as charged with maintaining morale and keeping the everyday concerns of their lives afloat. Cecily also delves into the devastating conflict she experienced with her sister while caring for their mother, as well as the feelings of resentment engendered by the significant professional sacrifices she made as a result of being persistently pressed into service as a reluctant caregiver.
Shannon Murphy, psychotherapist and mindfulness practitioner, was diagnosed in 2007 with breast cancer. She has been cancer free for ten years. Shannon talks about her decision to attend to the emotional aspects of cancer throughout her journey. She recounts speaking with cancer survivors to understand how they coped with the trauma of a cancer diagnosis and its treatment, and to understand how this experience could lead to profound personal change. She also talks about the transformative aspects of this traumatic experience and how facing a mortal danger led to healing of a damaged relationship. She also talks about how the experience strengthened her practice of mindfulness and meditation, leading to transformative personal growth.
Today I’m speaking with Lisa Gainsley, certified massage and lymphedema therapist, who works primarily with cancer patients. Lisa talks about how her journey of exploration—beginning with the academic study of cultural anthropology and religion, her training as a healer in various modalities, and her eventual specialization in the lymphatic system—brought her to the meaningful work of facilitating others in their own healing journey. She also talks about how her mother’s experience with lung cancer and her death when Lisa was 13 years old set her on a path of working with cancer patients as well as her own healing, wellness, and care of self.
How does one maintain routine and regularity when a cancer diagnosis and its treatment threatens to upend life as one knows it?
Today I’m speaking with Charlie Tercek, who in 2010 was diagnosed with and treated for bladder cancer. Charlie talks about the critically important role his family played in taking the lead to find the right care when the route he initially chose did not go as planned. He also reflects on the way that cancer has made him more willing to move on quickly from experiences that don’t work out as expected, how going through the experience together strengthened the bond between him and his wife, and his feelings of gratitude for what he has.
People undergoing cancer treatments often seek healing and support beyond the confines of oncology and traditional medical practice. Many seek to participate in their own therapeutic journey via a variety of other healing modalities.
Today I’m speaking with Sharon Holly, yoga therapist, who in 2010 began a journey toward finding a new professional path as she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Sharon talks about her work as a yoga therapist, working in an individualized way with people undergoing treatment for and living with cancer. Sharon explains the yoga therapy philosophy as an integrative process of looking at the person as a whole, helping clients develop agency to become part of the healing process, and discovering what will help that won’t harm.
How does one live with a diagnosis of incurable, metastatic cancer? How does one move forward with life goals and plans when the likelihood of a future has been deemed uncertain and tenuous.
Today I’m speaking with Jenny Pagliaro, singer and songwriter from the band Roses and Cigarettes, who—after initial treatment for Stage II Breast Cancer in 2015—was diagnosed one year later with Metastatic Breast Cancer. Our conversation takes place one week after Jenny had a PET scan that revealed her cancer to have receded by 90% compared to her previous scan. Jenny talks about living on an emotional rollercoaster during in the past two years, from initial diagnoses and completion of treatment, to a diagnoses of Metastatic Breast Cancer and receiving an estimate of six months to live, to this moment of hope for more time. She also talks about complicated interactions with family and friends who want to help her and the competing emotions behind wanting to maintain independence while knowing that she is reliant on the support of others.
The fear that patients and their loved ones experience is one of the most difficult aspects of a cancer diagnosis. In addition to managing the fear of death, how do cancer patients with kids cope with the fear that their children will lose a parent?
Today I’m speaking with Marissa Weiss, mother, teacher, and dancer, who in 2016 was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction as part of her complex cancer treatment. Marissa talks about dealing with the overwhelming fear that her young children might grow up without their mother and how her husband’s sense of humor and the laughter they shared served an antidote to the terror they experienced throughout the process. Marissa also reflects on the very personal decision to have a double mastectomy and how she has coped with trauma by being in the moment, making meaning, and finding purpose in her cancer experience.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment can quickly put one’s life out of balance. How can one endeavor to find equilibrium while facing extreme fear and trauma, as well as undergoing harsh but potentially life-extending therapies and treatments?
Today I’m speaking with Cindy Fraser, artist, writer, and teacher, who leads a yoga class for people living with cancer and chronic illnesses. Cindy talks about yoga’s usefulness as a tool to help us navigate our lives, in particular when dealing with something as overwhelmingly frightening and traumatic as cancer and its treatment. She also discusses the grounding of her work in the Chinese philosophy of Daoism (Taoism), seeking balance within ebb and flow, and the guiding principles of simplicity, compassion, and patience.