Roger Freeman and Alexandra Decas are members of The Dinner Party, a national community of mostly 20- and 30-somethings who’ve each experienced significant loss. Our conversation explores how connecting intimately with strangers who have similarly experienced loss has allowed each of them to address their feelings of isolation and learn how to live with and speak about their profound loss. They also talk about the role of humor at Dinner Party tables, how they each seek joy in their lives, and the confounding issue of helping men—who have been trained to hide any weakness—to show up and feel safe.
Jodi Newson is a registered dietitian in oncology nutrition who works with cancer patients. Jodi talks about the central role that food plays in maintaining our social bonds and how side effects of cancer treatment can disrupt our most cherished ways of showing care. She also talks about being drawn to meaningful work in which she has a positive impact in the lives of her patients and their families and explains how her role often extends beyond nutrition. Jodi also reflects on how she has personally benefitted from the life lessons she has learned while helping others.
Steven Weiss-Smith was 13 years old when his father died of metastatic melanoma. Now 44 years old, the age at which his father passed away, Steve talks about the ways in which his father’s death—and especially his lack of understanding about his father’s illness at the time—has affected him throughout his life. He reflects on the ways in which his professional choices have incorporated ways of trying to get to know the man who he knew only as his father, though the eyes of a child.
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.
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.