Episode 35: Finding Her Voice – Thyroid Cancer

On Valentine’s Day in 2007, Kim was told that not only did she have cancer but that she may never sing again. Over the course of two years, Kim had multiple surgeries and radioactive iodine to eradicate what numerous health care professionals referred to as “the good cancer”. Afflicting mostly young (<50 yo) women, thyroid cancer is predicted to decrease in 2019, but death rates are expected to increase by 5.3% for this relatively unknown and unspoken disease. Kim notes, “I feel like an outsider in the world of cancer survivors because my cancer was so different, the treatment was so different…” from social constructions of ‘cancer’. Kim reminds people of the ThyCA (Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association) mantra, “Get your neck checked”. Tips for others? Kim suggests showing empathy and compassion toward others when delivering a diagnosis—a good rule of thumb for all health care professionals. For others with thyroid cancer, Kim recommends finding an otolaryngologist, a subspecialty surgeon that deals with conditions of the head and neck. Most importantly, find a surgeon that you feel comfortable with, support from others with thyroid cancer

Episode 34: Mapping Body Image

In this visceral podcast about body image, social critique, and self-acceptance, Courtney Fuller takes the listener on a journey across her body’s map to the center where she experienced love, loss, illness, birth, and identity re-birth. Courtney details the personal impact that years of social media had on the negative construction of her own self-image. After giving birth and describing the change to her body, Courtney states, “…there’s the great part of having these new little ones in your life and there’s the other part of losing a part of your self and changing your identity…”.  After a class prompt when students were asked, “Is there any part of your body that you really identify with?”, Courtney was moved to create a poem and image (see insert) she entitled, The Center of the Map. The statement Courtney asks us to consider, “Really think about your body’s story…rather than trying to copy and paste yourself…Each body tells its own story”. Suggestions include being aware of what you say to others (e.g., not complementing someone who has lost weight) including comments on social media, and practicing mindfulness.

The Center of the Map 

Smooth, pale skin marked heavily by freckles and moles,

my mother calls them “beauty marks.”

Well, I must be beautiful because

you can play connect the dots for miles

across the landscape of my body. 

A particular one, right next to my belly button,

sits as a plot point on the map of my life.

It stands out in bold font, like the capital city—

the dot that marks the spot where my journey begins.

 

As a child, belly baby soft, ballet pink,

belly cradled in warmth,

my insides supple and open,

my body pushing the boundaries as all children do. 

 I heed my mother’s advice to “pull in my belly.”

I practice making the shapes of hills and valleys,

concave and convex shapes in the mirror,

shapes controlling how my insides tuck neatly into my ribcage

or burst out into space. 

 

As others feed me compliments on my sleek torso,

I fill it with diet pills—supplementing 

an emptiness that extends to points beyond my middle.

 but I am lean, embracing this journey to thin, 

and I hold it all in tight.

I even add another landmark

that punctures the terrain of my abdomen,

a silver rounded piercing,

a beacon that shimmers May through August,

signaling days of half-shirts and a lemon yellow string bikini.

The landscape of my body glows with a luster—hot and exposed

and like a cheap roadside attraction, it draws him in. 

My eyes watching his eyes travel from north to south along the route of my torso.

My eyes waiting for his eyes to return north.

His eyes bound only southward, past my middle.

 

Suddenly, my topography changes—

I feel the stretching of boundaries as

my hands float over the vast expanse of this once familiar region.

My fingertips pressing in to feel a shift in direction.

The flat and solid transforms into the curves of hills so foreign to me,

of swollen breasts and thighs

of an ever-bloated, ever-rounded center. 

This space, which was once only mine, I now share.

We grow; we expand together

and I simply give up holding and flexing. 

I let go.

 

Exhale.

Belly soft and sagging like a deflated balloon,

transforming into the perfect landing place to cradle her.

This flat-tire, pillow-like suppleness becomes only a momentary side trip

as I cover that old, familiar territory that was once sucked in,

once tightly held together.

The roadmap of my torso shrinks back,

but the landscape is forever changed.

I carry these stretch marks both east and west of the middle,

like ripples in barren sand,

but my marriage,

my marriage I leave behind.

 

 

Hands full, baggage heavy, but

faintly, in the distance plays a familiar song from my childhood

each strum of his guitar vibrates across the country—

 carrying me over miles of scars,

over decades of this wilderness of flesh and bone,

over recognizable points on my map

that I once thought were beyond reach

And this man, this song, touches me across borders and bridges—

an intersection of voice and memories

he navigates his way back to me.

 

We still see each other as children

covered now in a vast network of scars and wrinkles.

He embraces my flawed torso

and whispers that he’s loved me since I was a child,

asks if I will have his children

But en route to create our own

our passage is blocked by cancer.

 

Here lies a tear in the map of our world

A melted, ridge of a scar

inhabits the space between

stretch marks east and west of the middle.

 

We cannot repair or rewrite this map

or move highways so that our bodies

can intersect sooner.

All that is left

 is to simply embrace the peaks and valleys

of this place and each other.

The baggage is heavy

but we carry on without looking back.

Episode 33: Surviving Stage 4 Cancer

“It is a humbling experience going through cancer…[and] it’s a lonely business being a cancer patient.” In this podcast on surviving stage 4 cancer, Jay Baglia shares what it was like to receive a life-altering diagnosis and how he lived through chemotherapy, created a blog site detailing his experiences, and developed a deep appreciation for his friends, family, and clinical team. For those of us who know someone who is sick or living with cancer, Jay recommends finding a way to reach out. Phrases such as “I’m thinking of you” and “I’m sorry this is happening to you” provided him comfort. For listeners looking for resources, Jay suggests the book, How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick and Cancer in Two Voices.

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Episode 32: Mothering Disability: Living with a Perpetual Condition

Julie-Ann knows what it is like to live with a perpetual condition. Diagnosed at 18 months with cerebral palsy (CP), Julie-Ann shares her heartfelt stories as a patient in the healthcare system and the surprising encounters she’s had with strangers about her CP. As a mother to a child with a perpetual condition (epilepsy), Julie-Ann confronts the implicit biases of others while being aware of how her past experiences with CP have shaped her current attitude as a parent. Julie-Ann offers the following advice to clinicians, “…the patient is probably more of an expert on that particular disability than you [clinician] are if it is not your expertise”. And, she reminds all of us to be aware of our assumptions when talking to someone with a disability. Julie-Ann stresses the importance of “…engaging children about the need to understand difference and accept that bodies are different and move through the world differently…“

Episode 31: Making Decisions in an Uncertain World

When Dr. Marleah Dean Kruzel learned she carries the BRCA (breast cancer) gene and has an 84% chance of developing breast cancer at some point in her life, it was difficult news to hear but not a complete shock. After watching her mother live with breast cancer, Marleah decided to have genetic testing. With a positive BRCA diagnosis, Marleah chose to increase her surveillance—one of four options for a positive genetic test result. She lives by her mother’s mantra, “You make the best decisions you can with the information you have at that time” and advises listeners to not be afraid of the uncertainty; you have to embrace it. “Knowledge is power”.

Episode 29: Early Pregnancy Loss

Dr. Jennifer Morey Hawkins begins the podcast with the unforgettable words told to her by the emergency room doctor, “You’re having a miscarriage…go home and take care of yourself”. Jennifer shares her heartbreaking story of having an ectopic pregnancy (1:50 pregnancies are ectopic) and the stories of other women she interviewed in her research. For listeners, Jennifer suggests developing a relationship with your OB-GYN, asking questions about unexplained symptoms such as pain, addressing grief, and confiding in a friend or co-worker. For practitioners, Jennifer encourages empathy and an acute awareness of how bad news is delivered, especially the news of a miscarriage.

Episode 28: A New Relationship, A New Day

“I realized for years and years she had hid this from me….I had no idea.” Barbara Lewis,Managing Editor of DocCom, shares the heartwarming story of her mother’s journey with dementia and how to address ambiguous loss. “Think of it as a new relationship….a new day, a new conversation”, says Barbara, providing recommendations for how children and loved ones might reframe their relationship. Throughout the podcast Barbara provides numerous tips:   involving nursing facility staff, bringing in meaningful items, and setting up a remote laptop to communicate with their loved one. To help others, Barbara reads a fictitious letter she wrote from a mother to her daughter “…in the hopes people might re-assess how they act toward  their parent…and that there would be no regrets.”

Episode 27: A Difficult Time of Year

The holidays are a time for family gatherings and celebration, but it is also a time when addiction is on the rise from additional pressure and stress. According to DrugAbuse.com, December is the deadliest months for alcohol-induced deaths and it can be a difficult time for recovering addicts as well. In this podcast, Dr. Maggie, a primary care physician, shares the story of a patient recovering from addiction who unexpectedly dies from an overdose. She offers suggestions to listeners facing addiction (and loved ones supporting them) and advice to clinicians for addressing addiction bias and creating a supportive environment. “This [addiction] journey has plenty of ups and downs…it’s complicated…and we [physicians] will be there for them”. Dr. Maggie advocates for early addiction training for clinicians to help address this growing national crisis.

Episode 26: Holistically Healthy with Crohn’s

As a nine-year-old with perfect school attendance, Jennifer learned the many challenges having an incurable autoimmune disease, Crohn’s disease, and living in a rural area. After years of being angry at her body, Jennifer shares how she learned to feel grounded, advocate for herself, develop relationships and have a holistic and positive way to engage the world. For the listener who struggles with a chronic illness and searches for acceptance, Jennifer advises, “…inquire into yourself and if you feel holistically healthy in all aspects of your life.” For the clinical encounter, Jennifer encourages working with your physician and realize, “…there’s a limit to what we can do ourselves to keep ourselves healthy and a limit to what our doctors can do…[and] acknowledge this is messy and it can be frightening…and it’s okay…it’s okay to ask for help.”

Episode 25: Confronting Weight Bias in Healthcare

“You need to lose weight. You need to lose weight. You need to lose weight”. For Dr. Jennifer (Jenn) C. Dunn, her weight has been the primary focus of her clinical appointments, so much so that when she went to see a physician for a cold, she was told to lose weight. In this podcast, Jenn reminds us of weight bias and its impact on individuals who are diagnosed with obesity. “The way that people treat me has a bigger impact on me than I feel that my actual weight does.” Jenn offers suggestions for clinicians in training when communicating with patients and advice for how to speak up and advocate for yourself when facing obesity stigma.