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. This podcast is about what happens when you have breast cancer, told in real time.
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. If you’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer and have no idea where to turn, this podcast is here to help you through the shock of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Kristen had no breast cancer symptoms. The routine mammogram she had a few months earlier, which is the standard breast cancer screening, was completely clear. She found her tumor only because it had reached the surface of her skin. And in that moment, the entire world changed. One of the most detectable breast cancer signs is a lump in the breast or underarm, and Kristen found hers in the shower.
What causes breast cancer? This is largely a mystery for most women, but Kristen had a few ideas about what might have contributed to hers. The first thing she blames is stress. Not just everyday stress, but two years before her breast cancer diagnosis she endured a life-altering and prolonged injustice at work, eventually resulting in the loss of her job and complete financial ruin. That trauma sent her to rehab and into recovery, and ultimately back to her hometown San Diego to start her life over.
Five years later, the lawsuit is still in progress, so the details will remain confidential until it’s safe to share that story. And when the time comes, your jaw will be on the floor.
As Kristen reaches each new milestone, we learn the language of cancer and work our way through the endless unknowns, from understanding the breast cancer stages to the variations in breast cancer treatment. We notice that her doctors carefully stay in their lanes and learn what each of them do and don’t do.
Our observations and obsessive questioning begin to uncover patterns in cancer care that we don’t understand, particularly the philosophy of shared decision making. As Kristen grapples with the staggering decision about whether or not to have radiation, we wonder how cancer patients are expected to make confident, educated decisions on their own.
While the breast cancer survival rate is 90% according to the internet, it doesn’t stop well-meaning onlookers from making assumptions that are unfair or uninformed. Survival rate might be high, but what does survival actually look like? There is no return to normal when you come out on the other side.
Breast Cancer Stories brings us behind the scenes of a disease that affects so many families, yet is surrounded by so many myths and stereotypes. Kristen brings her full authentic self to every episode to reveal the things we never hear about having breast cancer.
If you are battling breast cancer yourself, Kristen will help you feel less alone, more understood, and more informed. If you are searching deep in the web for breast cancer information, one of the most beneficial ways to feel less lost is hearing real stories from people like Kristen. Whether you have a friend, a family member, or a friend of a friend with breast cancer, or you lost a loved one to it, Breast Cancer Stories will help you better understand what’s happening.
August 4th, 2022 | Season 1 | 26 mins 34 secs
depression, foot pain, mud\wtr, reconstructive surgery
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 after her final reconstructive surgery in a moment of darkness she candidly asks, “if this is what kills me, have I lived a good life?” Answering this question leads her to reflect on just how much her perspective has changed through this experience
July 8th, 2022 | Season 1 | 27 mins 9 secs
anniversary, foot pain, neuropathy, pre-op
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.
June 30th, 2022 | Season 1 | 40 mins 4 secs
backtable, chemotherapy, interventional radiologist, mediport, port placement procedures, ports
The list of things to do before starting chemo includes the seemingly ordinary task of getting a “port” or “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 pretty unpleasant surprises and unexpected pain. Interventional Radiologist Dr. Aaron Fritts explains the procedure and answers our questions.
June 23rd, 2022 | Season 1 | 18 mins 35 secs
breast reconstruction, hormone blockers, neuropathy
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.
June 15th, 2022 | Season 1 | 37 mins 46 secs
book review, mammography, nurses, nursing, tamoxifen, ultrasound
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.”
June 13th, 2022 | Season 2 | 6 mins 12 secs
biopsy, lumpectomy, mammogram, san francisco general hospital, ultrasound
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. When she discovered an almond-sized lump in her armpit, she did everything she tells her patients not to do and dismissed it. One painful biopsy later, Natasha found out she had cancer; in one life-changing moment, the nurse became the patient. This is Natasha’s breast cancer story, told in real time.
May 27th, 2022 | Season 1 | 39 mins 52 secs
compression sleeves, cording, lymph nodes, lymphatic drainage, lymphatic massage, lymphatic system, lymphedema, physical therapist
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 therapy since 2004.
May 13th, 2022 | Season 1 | 47 mins 21 secs
aloe vera, ana ono, aquaphor, beachbody, mastectomy bra, miaderm, my girls skin care, radiation bra
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.
April 28th, 2022 | Season 1 | 22 mins 19 secs
ana ono, breast implants, exchange surgery, expanders, post-op, recovery, surgical bra
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.
April 21st, 2022 | Season 1 | 24 mins 44 secs
acid reflux, exchange surgery, implants, side effects, tissue expanders, zometa
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.
April 8th, 2022 | Season 1 | 34 mins 6 secs
chemo brain, hormone blockers, neuropathy, zometa
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. But you know Kristen. She's not giving up without a fight.
March 24th, 2022 | Season 1 | 28 mins 29 secs
estrogen, lymphedema, moving, stinky armpits, zometa
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.
March 10th, 2022 | Season 1 | 22 mins 1 sec
implant exchange surgery, nipple reconstruction, pain management, tissue expanders
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 during the exchange surgery and subsequent nipple reconstruction coming up soon.
March 3rd, 2022 | Season 1 | 27 mins 20 secs
breast implants, diep flap, fat transfer, mastectomy, plastic surgeon, tissue expanders
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.
February 17th, 2022 | Season 1 | 22 mins 48 secs
breast reconstruction, estrogen positive breast cancer, hormone blockers, radiation, skin damage
Two months after radiation, Kristen’s chest isn’t looking like such a hot mess anymore. But in mental health terms, we’re in the valley now and nobody knows how deep or wide that valley will be.
January 28th, 2022 | Season 1 | 28 mins 2 secs
bolus day, boost, radiation burns
Despite increasing pain and burns from the most recent round of radiation, Kristen manages to keep up with work and spend time with a friend at the beach. With only five days left until the end of radiation and “no evidence of disease,” surely there’s a celebration in store?