Saline Native and Cancer Survivor Releases New "Chemo Stories" Podcast

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Written by Michelle Colby

Have you been affected by cancer? Are you struggling during this pandemic? Consider taking some time to listen to Tina Zaremba's newly released podcast, "Chemo Stories". This is a limited series podcast that chronicles her journey through chemotherapy and breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with in June of 2019. This 15-episode series launched on Oct. 1 in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and aims to demystify the cancer experience and foster a sense of community for survivors and supporters.

Going through breast cancer, Zaremba’s "personal pandemic", helped prepare her for the global pandemic. She struggled to find helpful resources and other women further along in the journey to empathize with. So, as a voice actor with 15 years of professional experience, she did what she is trained to do -- use her voice to tell a story and fill a gap. In her pandemic passion project, Zaremba approaches each episode with wit and raw honesty, tackling her fears, offering coping strategies, and sharing her failures and successes that she encountered throughout the experience.

Zaremba begins her podcast with a powerful statement: On September 28th, 2017, Julia Louis-Dreyfus tweeted, “1 in 8 women get breast cancer”. In 2018, Michigan ranked 26th in the Nation for women, aged 45 and older, having up-to-date mammograms. For more information, please visit https://cancerstatisticscenter.cancer.org/#!/state/Michigan

Zaremba lived in Ann Arbor through Kindergarten, then moving to Lodi Township, where she graduated from Saline High School. Throughout the podcast, Zaremba offers many positive messages and advice, such as: "This is just one season in my life -- just one part of my journey -- not the entire path". She explains her decisions to include both eastern and western approaches to medicine. In a recent interview, Tina responded to several questions:

You felt like you spent your younger years feeling like your voice was not heard. Now, you are a successful voice over actor. How are you helping other women use their voices?

“My hope is that this podcast is one way that I am empowering women to share their story, to tell their truth. On a more tangible level, I am a voice over coach and work with not only talents who are in the voice over industry, but also with entrepreneurs and executives who are uncomfortable speaking. Often times, they think it’s about the sound of their voice, when really it’s something underneath that. In my eyes, it’s just kind of owning where you’re at and then speaking. So, if you’re feeling nervous--- really feel into that. But, my hope is that this podcast is a true example of empowering women to use their voices, in whatever vehicle they choose, whether it’s writing or just speaking.

After high school, you attended Western Michigan University. How did you get from there to becoming a voice over actor?

“I went there for a short period. But, then I did a play in Ann Arbor through the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. The woman who wrote the play was a playwright in New York. She got me out to New York. I ended up going to the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute.”

What was the name of that play and who was the playwright?

“It was A Summer Share, at the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. Her name was Doris Davis. She has since, ironically, passed from breast cancer. She was a mentor to me and I looked up to her. She was very holistic, as I am. But, I chose to do the more alternative route. That [experience] definitely influenced my decision to do the treatment I did. Because, I saw what happened and I remember her son saying to me “It didn’t have to be like this”. Her cancer was caught early, too, but she did not do western medicine.”

Did you choose to get a bilateral mastectomy?

“I did. The cancer was found in my right breast. I heard and connected with too many women who were still getting mammograms on the one breast. And, something would be suspicious a couple years later. I didn’t want to continue to do that. There were mixed emotions within the medical community. Some doctors were opposed to it. I understand why, because we don’t really talk about it in our society, how big surgery is. It’s major. To be truthful, I had reconstructive surgery in August and had a little snafu at the incision site that hospitalized me for 5 days. I remember crying and saying to my nurse that I didn’t have to be here. But, no one talked to me and said “you can go flat”. It was “do you want saline or silicone?” The nurse said, “but all of the studies show that women want to go back to the way it was.” Yeah, but I’m never going back to that woman anymore -- she’s gone. I found out that my gynecologist’s grandmother had breast cancer. Reconstructive surgery was not an option at that time. She was devastated. I am not saying that I would have chosen to go flat, but I do feel that all options should be made available to us.”

In your podcast, you mention several different things that helped you along, such as the paper chain, pinwheel mints, cold therapy, and reading good books like The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant. What were your favorite things that you used to create a sense of ease?

“Associating myself with strong women, particularly women who have gone through this, and really seeking those women out. There is an organization called Share that will connect you with others with a similar diagnosis as you. They connected me with a woman that had a similar diagnosis as mine. She was further along and was a mentor that I touched base with. I reached out to some women I went to high school with, in Saline. I saw indications on their facebook pages that they might have cancer. We kept in touch on a regular basis. I also joined a support group for early stage breast cancer at Sloan Kettering, where I received my treatment. It wasn’t all Qigong and acupuncture.”

Is there anything out there that mitigated all of your symptoms?

“The big thing that kept being repeated to me, by women who had already gone through this journey, was make sure you stay on top of your anti-nausea medications. Even if you are not feeling nauseous, stay ahead of it. That was huge. The thing is, breast cancer isn’t just breast cancer. There all different types. So, staying on top of the medications, and eating comfort food, like bagels, and gaining weight! I thought you were supposed to lose weight! I gained!”

What was radiation like, in comparison to chemo?

“It was 5 minute treatments every day, for about 28 days. In some ways it was a little harder than chemo. At Sloan, you have your own private treatment suite, during chemotherapy. Your friends can come and be with you and you have a TV, you have the nurses. With this, you are completely alone, being zapped. Although it’s only 5 minutes, you feel the distance. You have to work. Radiation was a little disconcerting. I was grateful that I had done some mental imagery to help me stay calm and visualize the radiation zapping what it needed to. I would play Tina Turner, because she is my alter ego. She is fierce!”

You started your podcast saying that you are a self-proclaimed feeble warrior, needing light and calm attitudes, along with empathy. What a great explanation of what is needed when one is newly diagnosed with anything. Further along your journey, your friend reminded you that “there is a finish line and you are a bad ass.” Did your inner feeble warrior become a bad ass?

“I believe I always was one, but there was a lot of fear on top. It was uncovered for me by going through this experience. When you lose what you think is your identity -- I felt like I developed a super-power where I was able to see ways I was behaving that wasn’t serving me. I was able to see feelings and emotions and stories that were going on in the back of my head. Whether they’re true or not, they were just playing all the time, I wasn’t even aware, in the background: Not having a strong voice, being a feeble warrior, be a princess, be dainty, I’m not smart, I’m not strong”. It was the way I interpreted messages from my family and teachers. I’m not saying that was their intention. I didn’t realize that until I was losing my hair and you feel like you look like Frankenstein in the mirror, and you just sit with yourself and ask, Oh my God, what the hell is all this stuff going through my head?”

How did you manage your mental and emotional health?

“In the beginning I used Ativan and was prescribed a low dose anti-depressant. I took it just through chemo, because I wasn’t sleeping or eating and was completely in shock. That did help and served its purpose. Acupuncture really helped me and this medical Qigong that I do with this guy from North Carolina – if you go to chemostories.com, or where ever you prefer to access the podcast, I reference where you can connect to some of these resources. Since Chemo, I have started doing EMDR therapy, as well, which is helpful.”

Your last question to yourself, in the podcast, was can I move through this experience with strength, grace, and trust. Do you feel like you met that goal?

“Yes. Every tag was I am Tina Zaremba, I’m searching for strength, grace, and trust. At the end of the podcast, I say I’m Tina Zaremba, I am strength, grace, and trust. Going through this journey, I recognize that – It’s so cliché, right? The Dorothy and the There’s no place like home, it was always there. Clichés, I guess are there for a reason. It was always there. And, I’m no different than anyone else. I really recognize, wow, we’ve really done a number on ourselves. Us humans. Where we’ve, I don’t know, succumbed to amnesia? But, we’ve forgotten how freakin’ wonderful we are.”

Up-to-date mammograms are at 68% in Michigan, for women ages 45 and older. Would you mind addressing the importance of taking care of ourselves?

“I’m not a doctor. But, what I know is that early detection is key. It is really important to stay on top of mammograms. I was getting checked regularly, and this still happened. A recent study is asking why is breast cancer increasing in women between the ages of 30-40. They are looking at a correlation with cortisol. I do feel like our mental health and well being really needs to be looked at. How we talk to ourselves. We tune in so often to our devices and to media, but how often are we really tuning in and listening to the narrative that is going on?”

Along with this being the closing statement in her podcast, Zaremba offers a challenge to us, to help get us through this pandemic, or, whatever is troubling us:

“Lean on experiences from your past, as you navigate this strange new reality. You, too, have learned lessons or seen things that prepared you for all of this. You might not see them at first. Try to make these connections. Who knows? You may discover a deeper strength, or, find a love or a sense of connection that you never knew existed within you.”

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