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.
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.
A cancer diagnosis and its aftermath reverberate throughout a family. Relationships between members change as the entire family system is affected. How does a family cope when one of its members does not survive the illness?
Today, I speak with Carmen Osornio, whose sister, Ivonne, died in 2016 of metastatic cervical cancer. Carmen talks about the vital leadership role her sister played as the eldest child in this immigrant family and the impact of Ivonne’s decline and eventual death on their close-knit extended family. Carmen discusses the support and coping strategies that she and her family depended upon during her sister’s illness, as well as her decision to focus on caring for the wellbeing of Ivonne’s young son during his mother’s decline and after her death. Carmen also considers how this experience led to a renewed commitment to attending to her own health, mustering the courage to follow through on her life goals, and her pledge to demonstrate love and caring to those in her life.
A cancer diagnosis can be a terrifying experience, as it brings the person receiving the diagnosis, as well as his or her family and friends, face to face with the possibility of death. For many, a cancer diagnosis is the first close up experience in thinking seriously about the end of life.
While cancer treatment can extend life, it is often rigorous, painful, alienating, demoralizing, tedious, and frustrating. Enduring treatment can be an exercise in finding dark comedy. Even when treatment works, the experience can have lasting complicated effects. The phase after treatment can also be the beginning of unexpected and unwelcome periods of heightened vulnerability.
A cancer diagnosis and its treatment is often a transformative experience in the physical, emotional, social, and psychological aspects of the lives of everyone it touches.
In today’s episode, we turn the tables on interviewer and interviewee. Real Cancer host Diane McDaniel is interviewed by Rory Green, with whom she sat through weekly chemotherapy sessions, regarding her experience with ovarian cancer, its treatment, and the period of regular checkups after treatment concluded. We also talk about the impetus for the Real Cancer podcast and Diane’s hope that it will provide community and insight for people who are living with cancer, in one way or another.