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.
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?
January 13th, 2022 | Season 1 | 38 mins 41 secs
mapping, radiation, tattoos
Weary and desperate for a break in the relentlessness of breast cancer treatment, Kristen makes the decision whether or not to proceed with radiation.
December 30th, 2021 | Season 1 | 32 mins 14 secs
double mastectomy, lymph node biopsy, reconstructive surgery, recovery
Kristen goes into the operating room hopeful that this milestone is the end of her cancer, but wakes up ten hours later realizing the number of drains in her chest means the worst possible outcome.
December 16th, 2021 | Season 1 | 17 mins 47 secs
anna ono, double mastectomy, kyte baby, surgery prep, yeti
How do you prepare to have a part of your body removed forever? What snacks do you bring to a double mastectomy? For Kristen, the list starts with a good pillowcase, her Anna Ono robe, her softest Kyte Baby jammies, slippers, her YETI cup, and shirts with places for drains.
December 2nd, 2021 | Season 1 | 13 mins 9 secs
agt, america’s got talent, attitude, double mastectomy, mortality, nightbirde
Kristen readies herself for the impending double mastectomy and reflects on her original thought process in which the bad boobs are swapped out for good new boobs and that’s the end
November 12th, 2021 | Season 1 | 21 mins 1 sec
chemotherapy, ransomware, reconstructive surgery, ringing the bell, scripps
Kristen is exhausted and ready to be done with chemo. When Scripps' entire computer system goes down from a ransomware attack, her appointments come to a screeching halt. A chemotherapy session is delayed by a day, but the frustration is short-lived as she realizes her brother can be there to see her ring the bell.
November 4th, 2021 | Season 1 | 18 mins 35 secs
anxiety, chemotherapy, flushing the port, mri, neuropathy, oncology, tumor
After 11 long weeks of chemotherapy we’re at the clinic to see Dr. Ali, the oncologist. Kristen is hopeful because she can see her tumor and it appears on the surface like it’s getting smaller. But the only true measure of whether the tumor has grown is the MRI, and Dr. Ali delivers the news
October 28th, 2021 | Season 1 | 17 mins 59 secs
booties, itching, mittens, taxol
Kristen adjusts to Taxol, the drug used in the second phase of chemotherapy, which brings bizarre side effects requiring special booties and mittens to prevent permanent nerve damage in her hands and feet. Being single, having cancer, and wondering if you’re going to die alone is scary. As the days go by, it becomes clear who’s really in her corner for the long haul.
October 21st, 2021 | Season 1 | 20 mins 13 secs
anemia, chemo, hair loss, insurance, nonprofit organizations, steroids, weight gain, wigs
4 weeks after starting chemo, the “new normal” is here. Kristen describes what it feels like to have no hair and as the physical effects of chemo present new challenges, she realizes that breast cancer could be what ends her life.
October 7th, 2021 | Season 1 | 32 mins 29 secs
hair loss, haircut, infusion center, lael annmarie, port flush, side effects, smart port, wall calendar
At the end of the day following Kristen’s 2nd chemo treatment, she recalls her dream the previous night and describes how her hair hurts.
Between the first and second chemo treatments, several surprise infections appeared along with disappointment over how quickly her formerly iron-clad immune system failed.
While adjusting to all these strange happenings within her body, she decides to cut her hair before it has a chance to fall out, resulting in the comical realization that with short hair she looks like her son and a surprise boost of self-confidence.
When a deeply meaningful gift from a dear friend (and two-time breast cancer survivor) arrives in the mail, the pink ribbon logo takes on a new and different meaning.
Settling into the treatment routine, Kristen shifts her focus to the future by buying a beautiful new wall-sized garden calendar from Etsy to chronicle the journey that’s about to unfold.
September 30th, 2021 | Season 1 | 37 mins 18 secs
anuradha koka, breast cancer, chemotherapy, flower child, kenneth shimizu, louis rivera, md anderson cancer center, salvatore pacella, scripps, sonia ali
When she noticed her nipple felt different, Kristen's first thought was "what the F is this?" Her second thought was that her life was about to change. So she did what everyone does in this situation... she jumped out of the shower, went to Google, and diagnosed herself with a rare form of breast cancer called Paget’s Disease. But Google’s never right about these things, so a few days later when the radiologist suggested a biopsy for Paget’s, shit got real.