Sept. 15, 2022

Day 20: Oh Wait, It Might Be Stage 4

Day 20: Oh Wait, It Might Be Stage 4

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. If she actually has stage four, her chemo treatment is completely wrong.

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, Natasha adopts Pippa, who is already a light in her life as a companion blissfully unaware of her cancer.

She feels as if she has an unfair advantage by getting the oncologist she wanted, changing her treatments, and wiggling out of a clinical trial she was pushed into.


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About Breast Cancer Stories

Breast Cancer Stories follows Natasha Curry, a palliative care nurse practitioner at San Francisco General Hospital, through her experience of going from being a nurse to a patient after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

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 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.

This podcast is about what happens when you have breast cancer, told in real time.

Host and Executive Producer: Eva Sheie
Co-Host: Kristen Vengler
Editor and Audio Engineer: Daniel Croeser
Theme Music: Them Highs and Lows, Bird of Figment
Production Assistant: Mary Ellen Clarkson
Cover Art Designer: Shawn Hiatt

Breast Cancer Stories is a production of The Axis.



Kristen Vengler (00:03): I'm Kristen Vengler. And our mission with this podcast is to help you and the people who love you through the shock of diagnosis and treatment.

Eva Sheie (00:11): I'm Eva Sheie, and the incredible woman whose story you're about to hear is a nurse practitioner in San Francisco who has dedicated her life to caring for patients more vulnerable than you can imagine.

Kristen Vengler (00:23): Her name is Natasha. This is a story about what happens when you have breast cancer told in real time.

Natasha (00:34): I've had weird ongoing pain from my port all week. And I think it may be slightly infected. I'm pretty sure my platelets dropped pretty badly this week. I don't know. But little things like suddenly the bruise from my port was just massive. And I know I had bonked it onto something and that probably wasn't a good idea. But things like it's now really hot... Well, really hot for us in San Francisco. So we had three or four days of mosquitoes and suddenly I've got this spontaneous bleed down my face from a mosquito bite that didn't finish its dinner, took off. And because I think I have no platelets, suddenly... Someone is like, "Is your face okay?" I'm like, "Yeah, it's fine." And go look in the mirror. And it was like a horror movie and I'm just sitting with some friends and my face is bleeding onto the floor. So that was weird.

Natasha (01:33): And then we talked a little bit about the acid reflux that has been the worst side effect. Somebody had said, "You'll get acid reflux." I'm like, "Oh my Nana got that. It'll be fine. Yeah." Debilitating, unbelievable. When we were supposed to record last week and I'm glad you texted me back about esophageal cancer because that's what I thought was going on.

Kristen Vengler (02:00): Oh, I swear I had it. Oh, I was sure. 2000%, I wasn't saying much about it, but that's what I was thinking.

Natasha (02:06): Yeah. I was doing COVID tests because I brought a bunch home from England with me because I would wake up with a sore throat every day. So I'm waking up doing COVID tests, wretched like strep throat wretched. And then the coughing started and I just couldn't sleep. It was unbelievable. And you do the Dr. Google and they're like, "Sleep sitting up." I'm like, "Dude, you try sleeping sitting up." By it's very nature you don't sleep sitting up. Or I don't. I'm not a horse.

Kristen Vengler (02:39): Right, I'm not a horse.

Natasha (02:40): So I couldn't even with a bunch of pillows, it was terrible. And it was just this dry cough that ended up with a headache and a sore throat. Oh it was terrible. And then they're like, "Yeah, this is a problem with chemo." I'm like, "Uh huh." Shit they didn't tell you about chemo number 937.

Kristen Vengler (03:07): Seriously.

Natasha (03:09): And the responses, it's like they've got everything we need for nausea. I don't think they do. But the acid reflux, the way it was just kind of tossed away and even when I went in to see my oncologist and she basically said, "You can take some Tums." I'm like, "Lovely." And then they tried some Protonix but then you have to take it between meals or not between meals. And then somebody's like, "Oh, you can just take it as needed." And then I was completely confused by the Protonix. But honestly nothing worked except for our good old friend marijuana because it just relaxed everything. But no, I was a wreck for a few days and they didn't do an endoscopy so I still have no idea if I have esophageal cancer.

Kristen Vengler (03:58): I don't think you have esophageal cancer.

Natasha (04:00): I don't think I do either.

Kristen Vengler (04:03): And that was one of the questions I was going to ask you, was I remember my late night chemo self talk, 5:00 AM call to your oncologist to say, "This is serious." It takes a lot to make that call.

Natasha (04:17): Especially as a nurse practitioner because I just felt like I couldn't be in control anymore. I live alone. I couldn't really breathe and it just wouldn't stop. And I was getting to the point where I was coughing, coughing, coughing, and then almost vomiting. And then I was like, "If that starts... " Ah and I also was in the middle of having the worst diarrhea, which is the effect of one of the monoclonals. So I was really scared of getting dehydrated. And I had just reached a point and was like, "Too many of my body organs are not working at the same time and I need some help."

Kristen Vengler (04:58): Tell me, monochroidals? What-

Natasha (05:00): Oh monoclonal antibodies. It boosts your immune system to fight the cancer. It's the whole new thing that's happened in the past three or four years. So most of us will always be on Taxol, Taxotere, and carboplatin, but depending on the hormonal expression. So yours was ER, were you PR as well?

Kristen Vengler (05:20): Yeah.

Natasha (05:21): Okay. So ER positive, which means like the PAC-MAN, yours is fed by estrogen. PR is a different, if you're progesterone. Mine is fed by HER2, which it's kind of unusual, but what's amazing is that eight, nine, 10 years ago, there was no treatment for my cancer. There was nothing for HER2.

Kristen Vengler (05:44): Wow. It's a protein. Am I right?

Natasha (05:46): Yeah. And so basically one of the four things they give me is the PAC-MAN That just goes and eats it all up. It's great.

Kristen Vengler (05:55): Nice. That's amazing.

Natasha (05:57): But I will also be on it for a full 12 months.

Kristen Vengler (06:00): Okay. Got you. So that was not helping, right?

Natasha (06:06): So throw that in with the cough, with the headache, and I just felt like a 12 year old-

Kristen Vengler (06:14): Coughing with diarrhea is a whole new ballgame. Am I right?

Natasha (06:19): I mean honest, between us, I just wanted my mom and she's a long way away. And the nearest thing to getting a mom is the emergency room.

Kristen Vengler (06:28): And so this was just a couple nights ago, right?

Natasha (06:30): Yeah. I just wanted somebody to tell me I'm okay.

Kristen Vengler (06:34): Sure. So they gave you a hug when you left too?

Natasha (06:36): Basically they gave me a bag of salt water, which we know cures everything, and a hug and they're like, "Yeah, this is really rough. Are you nearly done with your treatment?" I'm like, "No, I've had one."

Kristen Vengler (06:49): I'm sorry. Okay, something that I keep thinking about and you as a nurse will know the proper terminology for this, but it was explained to me that on days 12 through 14 after chemo, the chemo infusion, that's when your immune system was the lowest.

Natasha (07:12): Yes.

Kristen Vengler (07:13): And so if I'm calculating it, you were pretty close in there to those numbers?

Natasha (07:18): That's really interesting because I've been tracking my symptoms so I know what I'm looking for for my second cycle. But it's been great. I can look into it and "That's when I had the nausea. That's when my taste buds disappeared. That's when they came back and they couldn't handle anything." But the emotional side, I haven't tracked.

Kristen Vengler (07:40): Okay. And so I've talked about the physical stuff, but the emotional stuff, what's going on with that?

Natasha (07:49): So the biggest change of the last 10 days since we spoke and I know you know this but it hasn't been an officially recorded thing, I got a dog. I got the most adorable. I think they're called giant Pyrenees mountain dog mixed with a retriever.

Kristen Vengler (08:14): Tell me her name again.

Natasha (08:16): Pippa.

Kristen Vengler (08:16): Pippa. Of course it's Pippa.

Natasha (08:21): And it's been great. I mean, I got the dog because they said, "You have to walk for 30 minutes a day." And I said, "Okay, I'll get a dog. And she'll walk." I think her story, she came from the Central Valley. She's been very loved. She's not jumpy at all. But she's never been on a leash because she lived on a farm. So leashes just seemed dumb to her. Going for a walk is baffling because why would you when you've lived on a farm, why would you also go out for a pee when you can pee in the back garden?" So we've had some challenges. Most of the walks, we don't walk very far, but it's been so good to have something outside of myself who doesn't know I've got cancer.

Kristen Vengler (09:05): I love that. I'm so glad you did that.

Natasha (09:08): Yeah. Oh God. So am I. Me too. I needed it, definitely. There was a night in the week when she was lying next to me in bed and just the warmth of something else, the hulk of something else in my life. She's an 80 pound dog. Something else that took up space in my life that needs me, felt really important. I also got my divorce papers this week. So that was tough.

Kristen Vengler (09:39): Yeah, tell me about that a little bit.

Natasha (09:42): I mean, it's not that I didn't expect it to come. It's just when it sits there in front of you and it's, "Such and such a name is requesting irreconcilable differences," or whatever it is. I'm just like, "Really dude, you could have worked at it. We could have gone to counseling. It was not irreconcilable. But whatever, you're happy with your new girlfriend and I've got cancer." I don't know. It was hard. The mildly joyful bit is that he's got an incredibly cheap lawyer and I won't name so they can't sue us on this thing. It was full of mistakes, full of mistakes to the point where the address was wrong. I mean, it's just was ludicrous. And so I was able to mark it back up and send it back to his lawyer and said, "I'm not signing anything because this is all over the place and it's a mess."

Kristen Vengler (10:36): Good for you.

Natasha (10:37): Thank you. So it will come back corrected and I have not avoided a divorce nor do I want to at this point. I have a friend staying with me who I've known since I was like 23 years old. And even though you know things intellectually, when we were just sitting in the park a couple of hours ago, she's like, "You've had a hell of a few months." And I was like, "This time last year I was in Malawi taking care of women with cervical cancer. And now I'm playing with going out on disability because I don't know if I can take care of patients here." And it's like I'm getting over the, "Oh my God, I'm alone," because I'm not. I don't know. I mean, Kristen you know, it's like some days I can say to people, "I have cancer." I'm not shy about my health. And sometimes I don't have an issue with saying... Because I bumped my port at a picnic today and I was like, "Ow, damn it."

Kristen Vengler (11:41): Isn't that crazy?

Natasha (11:42): Yeah. And they're like, "Is everything okay?" And I just wanted to say, "Yeah, it's fine." I didn't want that like, "Oh no."

Kristen Vengler (11:51): "She's so fragile." Eva and I were having this conversation the other day and today actually about what people say when you have cancer and how people want to help. And Eva said, "I wrack my brain trying to figure out the right things to say and the right things to do." And we were talking about when people ask you, what can they do to help? I found myself stressed about that because even though people are putting themselves out, they're opening up saying, "I will do anything for you. What is it that you need?" That puts another layer on.

Natasha (12:30): Yes it does.

Kristen Vengler (12:31): And so I've been reading just the beginning of Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown, and it's beautifully written. One of the things she talks about is the events of your life are proceeding faster than your nervous system can process it.

Natasha (12:48): I like that.

Kristen Vengler (12:49): And she was saying, "And I can be really crappy when I'm feeling that way. And someone asked, what can I do to help? Because I would answer you if I knew what you could do to help, I wouldn't be walking in circles, sobbing, trying to hold myself up." And so I thought it was really interesting because I felt so when people would say, "What can I do to help?" And I'd say, "Whatever you think or you choose."

Natasha (13:16): Oh, I like that. Yeah, I can catch in myself a flippancy that is my way of dealing with the reality. I have a lot of good friends and some of them are mildly horrified by the... Not the cancer jokes, but because I haven't just gone to bed and got depressed. And I mean, I did that in the beginning, but there's a way of trying to normalize it. But sometimes it's the real boogeyman that some of us are dealing with. I mean, in a way, if we could do anything, it's like, de-stigmatize it.

Kristen Vengler (13:58): Agree.

Natasha (13:59): As a disease but also take that look off people's faces. It's like we are not all about to die or go onto hospice. And some of us are. But not everybody. Actually there's something I've completely forgotten to talk about probably because I'm mildly terrified. But I got a call from radiology last week to say that they found a couple of spots on my liver, not to worry, it's most likely nothing. But if I could come in on an emergency basis on Tuesday, they would love to do an MRI of looking at the spot specifically on my liver. Oh and there was something on my thyroid. "Most people have things on their thyroid, but we'd really like to work this up urgently so we'll do that on Tuesday as well." And so my oncologist when I'm like, "I've got esophageal cancer. This is terrible." She's like, "No, no, no, but we do need to work up these liver lesions because if that makes you a stage four, you're on the wrong treatment."

Kristen Vengler (15:08): This is a phone call?

Natasha (15:10): This is when I went in with esophageal cancer and they told me [inaudible 00:15:14]-

Kristen Vengler (15:14): When you came out without esophageal cancer.

Natasha (15:16): Without esophageal cancer. Yes.

Kristen Vengler (15:17): I went into the ER with a cough for esophageal cancer and I came out without it. But I came out with a chat about, "Let's look at my liver."

Natasha (15:27): Oh shit, yeah. And so I know the radiologist and I called him, "What the hell? Why are we just talking about this now?" And he said, "Because we presented to a tumor board, tumor board was a little concerned, but it's nothing." I'm like, "Tumor board was a little concerned, but it's nothing. Okay. That makes no sense." But so far everybody has said, "We're not concerned. We're doing our due diligence."

Kristen Vengler (15:55): Well, I'm not going to be that person that says, "Oh, I know it's nothing." But I'm going to be keeping good thoughts and-

Natasha (16:00): Thank you.

Kristen Vengler (16:01): Eva and I are actually going to be together Tuesday. We're doing the podcast conference this week together. And what time are you doing that? Do you know?

Natasha (16:10): 12:15.

Kristen Vengler (16:11): Okay. All right. I want to check in with you, but I don't want to bother you.

Natasha (16:15): Thank you. And it's interesting. We are talking about this right now because in San Francisco, people throw a lot of things away. So you can walk down the street and there's a dishwasher and a thing that you didn't know that you needed. Anna walking down the street last week, I found a book called 20 Things People With Cancer Wish You Knew, just sitting there out on the street. And I mean, I'm not going to read them all, but there are some great quotes and one of them, which is in a way the most important thing, which was, "It's perfectly okay to say or do the wrong thing, but doing nothing just makes this feel forgotten."

Natasha (16:57): And then some of them that I really, really liked, "I need to feel hope but telling me to think positively can make me feel worse." I mean, it's obviously written for cancer patients, but it's written to give to your partner or your grandma or your mother. And I also really like this one, "I'm still me, treat me kindly not differently."

Kristen Vengler (17:20): Perfect.

Natasha (17:21): Yeah, yeah. And then I added a few things because for me, it's also coming up with the divorce and it's COVID. But people are reluctant to touch me as if it's contagious or they're going to hurt me or I don't know. And I kind of rewrote this one a little bit. I said, "I love being held in your thoughts and blessings and I need hugs regularly. My body feels alien enough to me as it is." Yeah. It's a great book. It's a really amazing book.

Kristen Vengler (17:59): Oh that's awesome. I'm going to have to look for that. So you've done one chemo.

Natasha (18:02): I've done one, yeah.

Kristen Vengler (18:05): And then your next rounds, is that this Thursday?

Natasha (18:08): It's Wednesday.

Kristen Vengler (18:09): Wednesday. And you have a total of six.

Natasha (18:12): Yeah. So this time I have to go in and get labs, then sit around and wait for the labs, then meet with my oncologist again, then start the chemo. So it's from about 8:00 till 5:00, I think.

Kristen Vengler (18:26): It's a whole day, right?

Natasha (18:28): Yeah, yeah.

Kristen Vengler (18:29): So when you went in last time, how were you that morning? How'd you get there? And then what was the whole setup?

Natasha (18:37): So a friend took me. It's a beautiful place, the new Mission Bay, UCSF Mission Bay. They sat me down, sort of the first thing you do is get ready with the cap on your head. And from what I've seen from penguin caps, the Disney caps are much more tight fitting. If you can imagine somebody about to do the luge, that weird winter sport where you hurtle at 300 miles an hour down a thing, it looked like I had a luge hat on. So very, very tightly fitting. And within about the first 15 minutes, I was like, "I don't want to do this." It was so tight. It was so cold. I got one of those cold, tight band headaches almost and I was like, "I don't know if I'm going to do this."

Natasha (19:28): But then there's a lot of activity of like my port was getting accessed for the first time. I knew some of the nurses. So that was lovely because I've worked in the hospital and then I just sort of sat in the comfortable chair. I had a nice view out of the window. I got better at dealing with this hat. I had also chosen to do the gloves and the feet because I have, up until now one cycle in, knock wood, no neuropathy whatsoever.

Natasha (19:55): And then it just kind of got boring. I couldn't do the knitting because I had freezing socks and freezing hands. And then I wasn't sure what to do. And then I just kind of sat there and felt sorry for myself. But was mildly entertained because it was a little bit exciting because I've written orders for this chemo for years. And now here I am getting the chemo and looking at the pumps and looking at the names of the pumps. And it's like the beep goes off because of the something and I know how to silence the pumps and the nurse is like, "Please, you are not here as a nurse. You're here as a patient."

Kristen Vengler (20:31): That had to be hard though because you've done it for so many years. That's what you do.

Natasha (20:36): Yeah. And it was a mildly sort of meditative experience except nobody warned me about the side effects of when they pushed the dexamethasone.

Kristen Vengler (20:47): Oh. We didn't talk about that, that that was when I was itching everywhere. The genital itching. Was that it?

Natasha (20:54): Oh my god. They're like, "Oh, this might make your butt itch." And I'm like, "Okay, that's fine." So they pushed like 60 milligrams of dex, nothing happens. And then it was as if you had the worst hemorrhoids and had just eaten a vindaloo and had diarrhea. I was like, "Are you kidding? How long is this about to last?" It was unbelievable. And then 45 seconds and it's gone. I was like, "Why? Why does giving dexamethasone put your ass on fire?"

Kristen Vengler (21:32): What I had is full body itching. But where it started itching first, it was my uterus and down in my pelvic area. I think Eva's word for it was that was some fresh hell.

Natasha (21:44): It was fresh hell, completely unexpected. And then the second fresh hell was the experience of taking the Compazine. Did you take that for nausea?

Kristen Vengler (21:56): Uh huh, I would take it at night before I went to sleep. I didn't have a problem. What's going on?

Natasha (22:00): I would take it at night, within about 20 minutes I'm riding a bicycle in bed. My legs will not stop. It's the whole restless leg syndrome. It works really well. It knocks me out and I'm riding a bicycle in bed. I've just had to move it to one side and like, "Okay. I cannot take that drug then." And I think the big issue that I need to work through in the next two or three weeks, so maybe you can help me talk it through over the-

Kristen Vengler (22:32): Sure.

Natasha (22:33): Is do I go back to work? And I'm in a position where I've paid into a disability fund long enough that I could actually take the next four and a half months to include the radio therapy because I think that's pretty difficult and I'm torn. I'm torn between the entitlement of being able to take time off. Really I should be taking care of my own patients who are in a way worse situation than I am. I also love not working. Right now I have the dog, the weather's getting nice, I've got a house that's now mine, I've been working in the garden even though I can probably get untold infections being neutropenic from the garden.

Natasha (23:17): But I don't know. I know there's no right and wrong answer and I could go back part-time. But I don't know. A couple of people have said to me, it's like, "Honey, you have breast cancer. Take four months off. If it's not going to impact things financially and the clinic can take it." But I feel guilty.

Kristen Vengler (23:37): Okay. So get over the guilt. I'm just going to say this right now. You haven't asked my opinion but you're going to have cancer once and that's my prediction.

Natasha (23:47): No esophageal?

Kristen Vengler (23:49): No esophageal. I won't get it if you don't get it. How's that, deal?

Natasha (23:52): Deal.

Kristen Vengler (23:55): What I will say to you is that I kept working because that kept my soul alive, truly. If I had had the insurance situation and had everything in place like you do, I would've taken it off if my heart could have handled it. And I think that you are almost setting an example for people for self care, that you don't have to tough it through. My two cents on it is to take that time.

Natasha (24:30): And I think what I'm struggling with is, especially with this friend coming over to stay, her first comment to me which I know was meant well was, "Oh, you're not as sick as I thought you would be."

Kristen Vengler (24:43): I know.

Natasha (24:46): And there's so much behind that. It's like, "Okay, I don't weigh 90 pounds and I'm not using a walker, but you don't know that my taste buds have nothing. And I just shat my brains out." But that comment makes me feel like a phony, it makes me feel like I should go back to work.

Kristen Vengler (25:06): I remember it was very hard when people said things like that like, "Oh, you don't look as bad as I thought you would." And I'm thinking, "What did you expect me to look like?"

Natasha (25:17): And I hate to feel that it's because, thanks to my dad, I will be keeping most of my hair. And I think that's what people look for. And it's so much more than that. But I think that's what people focus on. It's like, "Oh, you've got your hair. You can't be that sick."

Kristen Vengler (25:36): Right. And after I heard that so many times I was like, "Okay, I have permission to look like shit all time. And I'm going to." This has been my ensemble for a year and a half.

Natasha (25:50): In a weird kind of way, what I would love to see us be able to do through this podcast is have breast cancer accepted. It's one in eight, so it's an awful lot of us are going to get this. And a lot of us will survive. And sadly, a lot of us will be diagnosed really late, but it's not something that needs approaching with kid gloves and that sideways look. It's like, "Let's talk about it. Let's help other women grope their armpits and find what's going on. Let's take the stigma and the taboo away from this because it's only going to help other women." Sorry. I feel like I just got on a soapbox. But it's like, "If I can do anything from this, it's to help... " Not normalize, because that sounds... It's like, "We've got boobs and our boobs can get sick. So let's get them taken care of. And if they get sick, let's treat each other with love and kindness."

Kristen Vengler (26:55): Totally. I completely agree. And I think that a huge part of this is finding a way to talk to our families and our loved ones and our friends without having to repeat it all the time. I know that Eva and I have talked about that's part of who our audience is here. And so if there's a way that we can help families have the conversations without trauma and to understand how to care for people and just in society, how to treat people. And tell me what your days look like right now.

Natasha (27:29): I mean, it's changed since getting the dog. But I now own my own house. I make little tiny changes because I can. And five days ago I decided to work on the back garden, I'm not a gardener. So I was very committed to doing the 10,000 steps that they told me. So I would walk around and around and around and around, before I had the dog, just to get it. I have gotten out of bed every day, which has been kind of remarkable for me. I'm not up at 7:00. I love my coffee. Then I lie around and I read a bit and I go for a walk in my lovely neighborhood in San Francisco.

Natasha (28:12): And then I cook something and then go to bed and listen to a podcast. And at some point in the day, somebody will show up with some food or they'll call me or I'll end up on a three hour WhatsApp conversation with my family in England. Really nothing special, which is so joyful to have actually nothing special. And I have a lot of questions. Would I go back to the same job? I don't know. And back to what we were just talking about, this experience with cancer will change my life. I don't know how yet, it gave me such a love and respect for women. And just like the shit we go through that doesn't get talked about.

Natasha (29:01): I don't know if I do anything with that. But just something of like, "Is there a way this can move towards some kind of healthcare advocacy?" I mean, I'm still struck by this knowledge and understanding that my breast tumor does not show up on a mammogram. Even now, I've been telling girlfriends to go for mammograms and she's like, "We need to get insurance companies to cover an MRI." I'm like, "Can I do that in my lifetime? How do I take that on?" Because we're getting short changed.

Kristen Vengler (29:42): Sure. What I'm struck by right now is as sad as you've been and the hell you've been through with your divorce and what you've been multitasking and all of that. But the essence of your soul is coming out in that. It's about how can you help? You're trying to wrap your brain around, "How can I help with this platform that we're creating?" And I applaud you in the middle of this that you're thinking that way.

Natasha (30:17): I mean, I feel I came into my journey with breast cancer with such an advantage, an unfair advantage. And I used it a lot. I got the oncologist I wanted, I got things changed. I got off a clinical trial that I was getting shoved at because I talked to other oncologists. And I recognize that my privilege, and I'm going to say the P word, is very few other people come into this, have that. And I struggled with it at the beginning. And somebody said to me, "What you are going to do is use that privilege to help other people."

Kristen Vengler (30:57): I remember you told me that. So the side effects that you had, except for your faux-esophageal cancer, you're self induced, self-diagnosed, aside from that, were there any other unexpected side effects?

Natasha (31:16): No, the nausea was relatively manageable. I tracked my symptoms and I was very proactive with anti nausea meds. The minute I could feel the gurgles of the diarrhea coming, I was like full of Imodium.

Kristen Vengler (31:33): It's like staying ahead of pain when you've had a surgery.

Natasha (31:36): Yeah. But I was surprised that I was pretty much... Maybe for four or five days, I was operating at about a 65, 70% of who I am. The rest of it, I felt pretty normal. Because my chemo's every three weeks and this has been the week with no chemo, I mean, other than the esophageal cancer that cleared up really quickly, I felt okay. I've had a good appetite. But I don't know. We'll see. And we could be sitting here in three weeks time and cycle two could have been a nightmare. We'll see how it goes.

Natasha (32:13): And the exciting thing for me that in the past few weeks is that if you remember how I knew that something was wrong was a big enlarged lymph node. It's shrunk. I have a hard time finding it. And it was really obvious. So I'm thrilled. I mean, it doesn't mean anything. I'm not jumping to tons of conclusions because we still have this like, "Oh, you may have a liver mass too." So we've got that to deal with. Feeling that shrink has been really nice.

Kristen Vengler (32:53): So Tuesday you have these?

Natasha (32:56): Tuesday, the scans. Wednesday, chemo again.

Kristen Vengler (33:00): It's a big week.

Natasha (33:01): A third of the way through.

Kristen Vengler (33:02): There you go. I love it. I love that. So are you going to do anything differently this time, preparation wise?

Natasha (33:11): That's a really good question. I didn't take enough lunch because I was hungry and I didn't realize it was going to be such a long day.

Kristen Vengler (33:18): I love the first thing was about food.

Natasha (33:21): And I think I might just take a Klonopin and just chill because I don't need to run that show. They're perfectly capable of running that show. And one of the things I've heard is that some people have special clothes that they wear for their chemo days. So what was interesting, what happened to me was, I got to the infusion center and I was putting my freezing booties on. And I looked down and I noticed that I had odd socks on, which is very unusual for me. And so my family was calling me and text me while I was getting set up. And I was like, "Oh my God, I've got odd socks on it."

Natasha (34:01): And my family knew how unusual that is. They all went and put odd socks on. They called all of my mom's friends who are all just sitting at home, knitting, waiting for something to do, because they're all in their 70s. So they all put odd socks on. So there's a slew of people across the world with odd socks on.

Kristen Vengler (34:20): I love it.

Natasha (34:21): And so now on Wednesday everyone's like, "Oh, we'll do the odd socks again." I was like, "I like it. That's good."

Kristen Vengler (34:26): Yeah, absolutely.

Eva Sheie (34:31): Thank you for listening to Breast Cancer Stories. To continue telling this story and helping others, we need your help. All podcasts require resources and we have a team of people who produce it, there's costs involved, and it takes time.

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Eva Sheie (35:34): Thanks for listening to Breast Cancer Stories. If you're facing a breast cancer diagnosis and you want to tell your story on the podcast, send an email to I'm Eva Sheie, your host and executive producer. Production support for the show comes from Mary Ellen Clarkson and our engineer is Daniel Croeser. Breast Cancer Stories is a production of The Axis, the