Podcast: Life with a serious illness

Best of Both World podcast with Laura Vanderkam

It’s easy to take health for granted. When all is working well, most of us don’t think about it. But today’s podcast guest reminds us that nothing is certain.

Emily Garnett is an elder care attorney who was raising a toddler when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer about a year ago. The prognosis for this isn’t good; Garnett noted that the median survival time is about 3 years. Facing this down in her early 30s was, as she said, “really, really hard.” For the first two months, she stayed in her bed crying for big parts of the day.

But for the past year, as she’s been navigating treatment, and the psychological challenges, she has been learning to live with uncertainty. In this episode, she discussed how she talks with her son about Mommy being sick, how she’s learned to think about her life goals with a 5-year-horizon (rather than the 50 years another 30-something might imagine), and the blog and podcast she’s started to help other young people living with metastatic cancer.

Please give this episode a listen; there’s a lot to think about in terms of resilience and how people can keep going when life doesn’t turn out as planned.

10 thoughts on “Podcast: Life with a serious illness

  1. As someone with a chronic illness that has long-term uncertainty for my ability to work (and even survive, tbh), this is a huge topic I’ve wanted to explore but don’t have many outlets. Really looking forward to listening to this episode.

    1. @Cynthia – I hope you found this episode helpful. Emily’s website and podcast are great resources for people facing serious illnesses. It’s a real gift that she has chosen to do this as she lives with her illness.

  2. Thank you Laura, Sarah, and Emily for this podcast. Emily’s assertion that in some ways her diagnosis is the best way for something like this to happen to her if something like this had to happen reminded me of something else- like many people, I was moved by Randy Pausch and his Last Lecture. His book of the same title was a collaboration with author Jeffrey Zaslow, who died unexpectedly four years later in an accident. When I read of Zaslow’s death, I remembered the connection between the two men and wondered if the experience of knowing and working with Randy Pausch as he faced a terminal illness had changed anything about how Zaslow had lived his life- obviously no one would choose to face a diagnosis like that, or to face a sudden untimely death. That said, we don’t usually get to choose, and the idea of having the opportunity to plan for the future with regard to life, family, and work goals, even if the block of time is less than one would wish for, is in many ways preferable to the alternative to me, especially as a parent. I admire Emily’s positive attitude and I appreciate her sharing her story on the podcast and on her own blog. No one wants to face the challenge she has, but many people do or will, and it is wonderful of her to build a community of support to help others live as fully as she herself is clearly doing.

    1. @Anjanette- so glad you enjoyed the episode. It is interesting to think about the idea of having a quantity of time to plan (vs. dying suddenly). Interesting question on Zaslow!

  3. This was a great episode! What an amazing perspective she had to share, very real, but also very hopeful. You guys did great on the interview side too.

  4. I can’t wait to listen to the episode.

    I’ve actually just returned from a memorial service (colleague’s family member) and this lady had a cancer recurrence. She didn’t want to go through chemo again so made a decision to celebrate what life she had left. She left detailed wishes and notes about the service, songs, etc. and everyone knew how she felt about each of them.
    While it was not easy to see her loved ones grieving, it was inspiring to me to see how intentionally she chose to die.

    1. @Marcia- I think there’s a lot to be written/said about how in denial most of us are about death. But we are all going to die – your colleague’s family member sounds like she thought carefully about both living and dying. I’m sure the service, hard as it was, was inspiring in that way.

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