Special Episode: Overcoming Mental Health Stigma

For years Joanna was mis-diagnosed with anxiety and depression and placed on anti-depressant medications that didn’t work for her. After a mental crisis, however, she saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with Bipolar II Disorder. “The terror of the diagnosis turned into a gift,” Joanna recounts. She educates listeners about some of the characteristics of Bipolar II such as 1) “mixed features” of hypomania—heightened emotional or energetic state—and depression which present simultaneously, and 2) rapid cycling which is four or more episodes in a year. “It’s easy to ‘pass’ with Bipolar II and the world not know you’re suffering,” she adds. Joanna touches on the difficulties people may face receiving a correct diagnosis due to stigma, gendered bias, and similar symptoms with other mental disorders. For those living with mental illness, Joanna offers numerous suggestions for navigating through the healthcare system and the importance of finding support and trusting your gut.

Cannabis, Hemp and Healing

In this podcast, Matt Neifert, owner of Agape Blends, shares the medicinal benefits of hemp CBD. Cannabidiol (CBD), found in hemp, is a chemical compound that effects our body’s cannabinoid receptors “…found in the parts of the brain that handle cognition, memory, psychomotor skills, feelings of rewards, and pain perception…CBD cannabidiol interacts with the receptors to reduce feelings of pain or anxiety” (https://cbdoilreview.org/cbd-cannabidiol/cannabinoids/). Matt explains the difference between hemp CBD and medicinal marijuana and how people have found relief from hemp CBD when other pharmaceutical medications did not work. Matt offers advice for how to talk with your clinician when taking hemp CBD and provides crucial tips for asking about third-party testing regarding the quality and purity of a product.

Episode 38: Surgical Wisdom from C-Sections to Brain Surgery

After 13 surgeries, all for different conditions (e.g., brain surgery, C-sections, appendectomy, car accident), Emily has learned a thing or two about pre- and post-surgery preparation, asking questions, types of anesthesia, and caregiver support. With her 3rdupcoming C-section, Emily shares the steps and un/expected moments she experienced and reminds listeners that “Patients are not standard.  Different people respond differently to different drugs” in discussing her adverse reaction to anesthesia. Surgical procedures and recovery processes have also changed over time in healthcare, as Emily recalls the speedy and fairly easy recovery from a recent sinus surgery compared to sinus surgery from a decade ago. In providing insights, Emily suggests asking the surgeon any and all questions, calling the surgeon’s office with additional questions, finding patient narratives to understand others’ experiences, and mental preparation techniques such as meditation. The podcast ends with advice for your caregiver so they can be effective in their caregiving role.

Episode 37: Navigating the Liminal Healthcare Landscape

Having had multiple roles in healthcare (i.e., employee, patient representative, researcher, teaching associate, standardized patient) and as a current Stage IV cancer survivor, Ariane provides listeners with a myriad of experiences about how she has learned to navigate the liminal spaces in the U.S. healthcare system. With a hopeful attitude, Ariana suggests not to affix fault and blame when faced with a diagnosis. She suggests bringing someone with you to appointments, finishing necessary paperwork, completing a living will and assigning a surrogate, meditation and/or prayer, and finding others to connect with. The most pragmatic advice Ariane has for listeners, “don’t accept what the system gives you….ask for what you want and don’t give up until you get it!”


Episode 36: Living Well with Diabetes

Ten years after being diagnosed with gestational diabetes, Melanie faced another diagnosis, Type 2 diabetes, and recounts the symptoms: thirst, frequent urination, dry skin, forgetfulness, occasional blurred vision and slow-healing wounds. As she states, “…those things are such a normal part of aging, we don’t think to connect those to diabetes until you get a diagnosis”. Melanie also addresses a common stereotype of diabetes, obesity, and shares the story of a physician who assumed Melanie (who weighs 135 lbs.) weighed 400 lbs. based on her blood sugar levels and hypertension diagnosis. Regarding diet, Melanie informs us that “healthy” foods such as granola, dried fruit, and refined sugars: bread, pasta, and rice are, in fact, not good for controlling diabetes. With a genetic predisposition to having diabetes, Melanie chose to manage her condition through diet, exercise, and lowering her stress levels, addressing her diabetes holistically. Over the year she learned what works for one person doesn’t work for others—you need to figure out what works for you.

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.



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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