Episode #1 of Happy Death is now available on my website, tenthwind.com. I would love for you to listen when you have time.
Your support has given me the energy to create this podcast. Today's email explains why I'm doing this and invites you to meet me in a place of vulnerability.
By learning how to share my vulnerability with others, I have found healing and wholeness. The act of opening myself — to allow others to see my deepest fears and joys — creates a shared humanity in that moment. James P. Carse wrote about the healing power human connection:
“If to be touched is to respond from one's center, it is also to respond as a whole person. To be whole is to be hale, or healthy. In sum, whoever is touched is healed.” (Finite and Infinite Games)
In the period following my diagnosis of late-stage breast cancer, I felt a lot of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the known. It was November 2017, and I was reeling.
A neurosurgeon installed two plates and 10 screws in my spine to stabilize my broken T1 & T2 vertebrae, located in my upper back. He later described the compression fractures to me, saying they "looked like crushed Coke cans." The cancerous lesions (now inactive) still appear on my scans, like scars on my bones, throughout my spine, sacrum, pelvis, ribs, and arms. I continue so-called maintenance treatment in the hopes of staying stable for years to come.
As I moved through my initial months of treatment (radiation then chemotherapy), my pain started to subside and my mind became more clear. There was fear, including fear of death, but what was it that frightened me? Curiosity sparked deeper questions, and the journalist in me took charge. I devoured books about death, trauma, cultural traditions, grief, spirituality ... I wanted to understand it all.
The more I learned, the more I would notice a sense of peace soothing my fears. I experienced a profound change, and I resolved to share it with others. That's when I decided to create this podcast. My goal is to help you feel a little more comfortable thinking and talking about death. It's a hard topic. Like other hard things, it will take practice. But I am convinced that putting in some work now will help you meet death more openly and live life more fully.
Below, you'll find the resources from episode #1's interview with Stephanie Cheng, MD, a physician in UCSF's symptom management service and an assistant professor in the division of palliative medicine. She was one of my doctors when I lived in California. And, man, does her specialty get a bad rap. Palliative medicine is, without a doubt, the cancer center's unsung hero.
I can't wait to hear your thoughts on my work. Thank you!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. I may receive a commission if you click a link and complete a purchase.
A Beginner’s Guide to the End, by BJ Miller & Shoshana Berger
Life After the Diagnosis, by Steve Pantilat
The Five Invitations, by Frank Ostaseski
Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande
MERI Center for education in palliative care at UCSF: meri.ucsf.edu
End Well project: endwellproject.org
Slow Medicine (USA) explores shared, nonrushed medical decision-making, palliative care, and treatment focused on preserving function and maximizing comfort, especially for elders. Our tone is kind, our minds open. Some of us help aging parents walk the labyrinth of modern medicine. We're also hospice nurses, professional care givers and managers, palliative care and ICU doctors, people with chronic or incurable conditions, and more.
Option B groups (Grief and Loss; and Health, Illness, and Injury) based on Option B book by Cheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
The Intersection of Cancer & Life
Beyond the Pink Ribbon, Emily’s blog.