MS. REBECCA SHEIR
The guy we'll meet, the man in this next story knows all about helping people cope with illness. In this case, cancer. Dr. Evan Lipson is a melanoma specialist at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore. And as an oncologist, he's seen the major impact a cancer diagnosis can have on a patient. But as Emily Friedman tells us, that impact isn't necessarily what you'd expect.
MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN
Dr. Lipson has always been the kind of doctor who spends an extra minute with his patients. He wants to hear how they're doing, not just physically, but mentally as well. So he asks...
DR. EVAN LIPSON
It certainly has its moments where it's tremendously sad. There's fear and anxiety and loneliness. But I was also hearing something very different from a lot of patients and that was that they were making changes in their lives in very positive ways.
Take his long time patient, Mike. Mike was diagnosed with lung cancer while planning a big renovation of his backyard.
And he said, well, we were ready to pay somebody to do the work and when I got sick, when I got lung cancer, I thought I'm going to do this work myself. It's a way to have control in a situation where I have very little control over my body right now. And it was also a way for him to sort of leave this legacy.
So every day he could, Mike went out and laid his stone patio.
If you can picture a stone patio, it's something that's very, you know, concrete and sort of made of the earth. And so his wife can look out the back kitchen window and sort of see this thing that Mike has built as a way to remember him.
And Mike wasn't the only one. Nearly all of his patients, Dr. Lipson realized, were doing really interesting things.
There's a woman who knitted quilts for her daughters and her granddaughters to sort of wrap themselves up in her love. There was a guy who had brain cancer who had started doing public speaking and talking about his experiences.
Initially, Dr. Lipson wrote down the things they were saying in a notebook, but pretty soon he realized something was missing.
Wasn't totally capturing the spirit of what they were telling me. It was more powerful for me to hear, in their own words, with their own voice.
One microphone later, Dr. Lipson began an audio recording project where cancer patients or their caregivers sit down for a one on one interview to document the side of cancer you don't often hear about.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1
They came back, originally, and said there were about 16 potential matches.
He named it, "Seize the Days."
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1
...for colon cancer five years ago...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2
I was looking for something to do.
Well, the Semicolon Club is the name of my organization.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 3
...he thought out his high school reunion.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 4
And so I...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 5
And it was just so overwhelming to see this person who didn't know me from Adam and, you know, so selflessly saved my life.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2
And as it turns out, there's never been a collection of stories quite like this.
(word?) itself, like you said, we're going to use this and...
In his office at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, Dr. Lipson's setting up his recording studio.
Okay. So if you would please just get comfortable, pick a spot...
MS. ANN APPLEGARTH
He's interviewing Ann Applegarth.
Ann Noelle Applegarth.
And they talk about how, after her surgeries she started swimming, which for her, was a big stretch.
You're out of your mind. I don't swim. I'm over 50. I'm a fatty, fatty 2X4. I'm not a jock.
But she did it. And pretty soon, she was raising thousands of dollars for cancer research and completing three miles swims.
I came around the bend to the end of the race and my brother was on the dock screaming, everybody was screaming. And for the first time, I felt I am thriving and I have really survived.
After her interview was over, Applegarth, told me that, for her, this interview wasn't about having an emotional catharsis, it's about passing on information.
In this current information age, when you're diagnosed with something, you go to the internet and Google it. And then you find the 200 pieces of information. But hopefully somewhere in that, enough hits will come to "Seize the Day" where somebody will click that on and go, oh, wait a minute.
In the nearly two years since Dr. Lipson recorded his first interview, he's done about 35 others. A short version of each interview goes on the website and the full version will soon be hosted online by the Johns Hopkins Medical Library. It'll be available for anyone to stream anywhere in the world, which is exactly the sort of exposure Dr. Lipson's hoping to achieve.
Someday when we cure cancer, people are going to look back in awe at the spirit and the strength and the determination that these patients brought to bear when they were fighting their disease.
And for those who have just begun their fight, Dr. Lipson says, hearing a hopeful story from someone who's been in your shoes can be exactly the sort of human connection a patient needs. I'm Emily Friedman.
To hear more of Dr. Lipson's interviews, head to our website, metroconnection.org.
Up next, why ragtime is all the rage, at least for this guy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE ONE
People have thought about ragtime as old music, dead music, gone music and I have nothing to do with my life unless I can convince you otherwise.
It's coming your way on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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