Breast Cancer Stories

Breast Cancer Stories

Breast Cancer Stories is about what happens when you have breast cancer, told in real time. Whether you’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer or love someone who has, this podcast is here to help you through the shock of diagnosis and treatment. The first season of Breast Cancer Stories follows Kristen Vengler, a 56 year old single empty nester in San Diego, from her diagnosis of hormone positive breast cancer through chemotherapy, double mastectomy & breast reconstruction, radiation, and whatever happens after that. In 2020, Kristen moved from Austin to San Diego to start her life over after a life-shattering workplace trauma. A few months later she had that terrifying moment in the shower we all hope we never have. The second season follows Natasha Curry, a palliative care nurse practitioner at San Francisco General Hospital, throughout her experience of going from being a nurse to a patient after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Like Kristen, Natasha was working to overcome a massively traumatic event at the time of her diagnosis. Natasha was in Malawi on a Doctors Without Borders mission in 2021 when her husband of 25 years announced in a text message that he was leaving. She returned home, fell into bed for a few weeks, and eventually with the help of her friends she pulled herself together and went back to work. A few months later when she discovered an almond-sized lump in her armpit, she did everything she tells her patients not to do and dismissed it, or wrote it off as a “fat lump." Months went by before Natasha finally got a mammogram, but radiology saw nothing in either breast. It was the armpit lump that caught their attention. Next step was an ultrasound, where the lump was clearly visible. One painful biopsy later, Natasha found out she had cancer; in one life-changing moment, the nurse became the patient.

Episodes

September 29, 2022 25 min

After her 3rd chemo, Natasha is too tired to eat. All food loses its flavor and only texture remains, so peaches and sushi taste the same. She becomes so dehydrated that she wins herself a trip to urgent care for fluids. Wondering if she metabolizes chemo more slowly than others, she plans to set a hydration date after the next infusion.

She used to tell her chemo patients that they’d react to each chemo treatment the same way, ...

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Natasha attempts a somewhat normal life by continuing to work and dating someone new. But behind the scenes, things are unraveling. She receives news about the alarming masses on her liver and thyroid. After her second chemo, unusual and disturbing side effects lead her to wonder how many other unexpected surprises are headed her way.

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September 15, 2022 36 min

Horrific acid reflux is keeping Natasha up at night. None of the remedies recommended by her doctors make a difference, except for handy dandy marijuana. Radiology detects spots on her liver and thyroid and calls her in for an emergency MRI.

The oncologist explains that if the liver lesions are looked at and she actually has stage four, her chemo treatment is completely wrong.

When her doctors recommend 30 minute daily walks, N...

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September 8, 2022 35 min

On the eve of her first chemotherapy infusion, Natasha hauls a pile of new prescriptions home and questions why so much harm must be done to be “healthy” again.

After meeting her oncologist Dr. Chen, a specialist in HER-2 positive breast cancer, the clinical trial that originally sounded promising turned out not to be a good fit, leading to a much less invasive chemo recipe consisting of Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin, and Perj...

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As a nurse, it was easy for Natasha to think of all the things the almond-sized lump in her armpit could be other than cancer, so she moved along with her busy life. When she realized it was not going away, her doctor sent her for a mammogram.

It took six weeks to get there and then her busy schedule delayed it again. The mammogram saw nothing in either breast, but since they could see it and feel it, they sent her for an ultraso...

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While leading a Doctors Without Borders mission in Malawi, Natasha’s husband of 25 years blindsided her by ending their marriage in a text message. She returned home, fell into bed for a few weeks, and eventually with the help of her friends she pulled herself together and went back to work.

A few months later when she discovered an almond-sized lump in her armpit, she did everything she tells her patients not to do and dismissed ...

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Persistent foot pain caused by chemo forces Kristen to spend hours each day on physical therapy, taping, and stretching her feet at home.

Wowing her friends with her ingenuity, she reveals that flesh-colored socks with the toes cut out are the trick to wearing flip flops to a wedding.

A few weeks before her final reconstructive surgery in a moment of darkness she candidly asks, “if this is what kills me, have I lived a good li...

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On the eve of the final reconstructive surgery, which coincides with the 1-year anniversary of her mastectomy, Kristen reflects on how far she’s come and how many things are different from what she expected.

Finally relenting to the damage in her feet, she applies for a handicapped placard and shares her relief over no longer having to schlep across enormous parking lots while protecting her chemo toe and tolerating persistent pa...

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The list of things to do before starting chemo includes the seemingly ordinary task of getting a port (sometimes called a medi-port). Get your blood work, pick up groceries, wash the car, get a port… But port placement is actually surgery and being unprepared for the procedure can result in some unpleasant surprises or unexpected pain.

Interventional radiologist Dr. Aaron Fritts explains the procedure and answers our questions ab...

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Six weeks after the (evil) expanders are out and new 700cc “porn-star-sized” breast implants are in, Kristen shares what it feels like to be on the other side of the painfully long process of stretching her skin to make room for the permanent replacements.

After falling into the bushes while climbing the path to her beloved apartment near the beach, she faces the harsh realization that her body is not going to be back to “normal”...

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As a nurse, you never truly understand the level of terror your patients are experiencing until you become one yourself. New York Times best-selling author Theresa Brown, RN, shares her breast cancer treatment journey along with details about her new book, “Healing.”

Diagnosed with breast cancer in fall of 2017, Theresa underwent a lumpectomy and four weeks of radiation before starting Tamoxifen, which ruined her life for three a...

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Natasha Curry is not your everyday average nurse.

As a palliative care nurse practitioner at San Francisco General Hospital, she cares for the poorest and most vulnerable at what is often the most challenging time of their lives. Many patients are homeless and also struggling with substance abuse and mental illness, in addition to cancer and other life-limiting diseases. It’s tough and heart-breaking work.

Last year, while lead...

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When and if lymph nodes have to be removed in the course of breast cancer treatment, lymphedema is a persistent aftereffect that must be treated and cared for following surgery, sometimes for many years.

Special guest and lymphedema specialist Christine Galione, MSPT, CLT is a physical therapist and expert lymphatic massage practitioner at Scripps Memorial La Jolla who has been helping breast cancer patients with lymphedema thera...

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To help make radiation go a little better, Kristen teams up with guest Jen Delvaux to talk about their radiation experiences and share the little things that made them more comfortable.

Most women head into radiation not knowing the process or what to expect. Intimidating machines, tattoos, buzzing noises, orders about how to move (or not move) are overwhelming. Taking a backseat to treatment needs are ease and comfort—not that an...

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April 28, 2022 22 min

It’s the day after Kristen’s surgery to replace her expanders with permanent breast implants, and she’s already feeling much better. For the last 33 weeks, Kristen lived with a constant 2-4 pain level from the uncomfortable and awkward expanders. Today her chest looks normal again, even if it will never feel the same.
Kristen trusted her plastic surgeon Dr. Sal Pacella to choose the size and shape of implant that looked best in h...

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April 21, 2022 24 min

It’s the night before Kristen’s implant exchange surgery. After 9 long months, the painful, lopsided tissue expanders will be replaced with silicone gel breast implants and her constant pain will come to an end.

At her pre-op appointment with Dr. Pacella, Kristen imagines choosing the new boobs will be like walking into a candy store and exploring an array of breast implants.

Adding to the already full plate of post-chemo and p...

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Nobody told Kristen just how horrible the side effects from the hormone blockers would be. The neuropathy in her feet causes her to walk like an old woman and she struggles with simple, everyday movement like standing up from the couch or walking up stairs.

To combat calcium loss from the hormone blockers, Kristen has a Zometa infusion which causes severe and prolonged side effects, prompting Dr. Ali to order a CT and setting off...

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March 24, 2022 28 min

Kristen returns to Austin during the holidays to help a friend recover from surgery, clear out the last of her old things from the storage unit, and close the door on 26 years of her life.

A stinky side effect leads us to invent a new dance move, and in honor of the 1 year anniversary of Kristen’s diagnosis, we attempt a round of rapid fire questions which completely backfires thanks to “chemo brain.”

Links
Support the Breast C...

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In part 2 of our conversation with plastic surgeon Dr. Salvatore Pacella, we go behind the doors of the operating room to understand how the team functions and learn some surprising things about surgery.

Looking back on Kristen’s extraordinary pain in the hours following surgery, we get real answers about how and why her pain was so extreme and what could have been done differently.

Dr. Pacella walks us through what to expect d...

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Kristen’s plastic surgeon Dr. Salvatore Pacella joins us to deconstruct her breast reconstruction and help us understand his strategy for the multi-stage approach in which the expanders are placed at the time of mastectomy and replaced with breast implants following radiation.

We ask all the unanswered burning questions, including whether he can even recognize Kristen with her clothes on and how the recent consumer trend of movin...

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