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Chemo Files Episode 0: Leaving Paradise

I entered Cancer World, a place where the trick we’ve learned to play our whole lives -- forgetting our mortality -- no longer works

While we're on winter hiatus we'll be regularly posting episodes from this compelling podcast on breast cancer, as well as those from our October conference NJ Spotlight on Cities.

At the end of June, I was having a routine mammogram and breast ultrasound when the technician left the room mid-ultrasound. I knew that wasn’t a good sign. Sure enough, she came back a few minutes later with a radiologist, who confirmed that there was something suspicious on the films -- and that I would need a biopsy.

Two weeks later, the biopsy came back with the diagnosis: breast cancer. I entered Cancer World, a place where the trick we’ve learned to play our whole lives -- forgetting our mortality -- no long works, and where news comes out in dribs and drabs, sometimes bad, sometimes good. I learned at the end of my first week in Cancer World that my breast cancer was an aggressive type, Triple Negative, and that I would definitely need chemo.


It was my son, Noah Levinson, who came up with the idea of doing a podcast. Another podcaster, Richard Davies, suggested a template: Season 1 of Alex Blumberg’s podcast Startup, in which Blumberg recorded his own experience starting Gimlet Media. Davies urged me to record my doctors, my daily experiences, and conversations with my husband in the middle of the night. I did.

The experience turned out to be richer than I imagined, with all my doctors consenting to be taped. Noah, who returned from his year of Americorps at the end of August to help take care of me, became the podcast’s co-producer starting with Episode 3. It’s been an extraordinary experience, collaborating with my 23-year-old son, who brings empathy, storytelling skills, and a college degree in neuroscience to the project.

The first two episodes I produced with help of my husband, Warren Levinson, a longtime radio correspondent for the AP, who becomes a character in the series in his own right in October, when we discovered he needed open heart surgery.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Welcome to the Chemo Files, Episode 0, recorded at a time when I was first coming to terms with entering Chemo World, a place where I’m simultaneously kicked out of the Garden of Eden and allowed to buy marijuana legally in the state of New Jersey.

Debbie Galant is the publisher of Midcentury Modern Magazine, a magazine about age, identity, and generational politics that lives on She is also the co-producer (with her 23-year-old son Noah Levinson) of a podcast called The Chemo Files, about having breast cancer. By day, she explores the future of news as Associate Director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. Galant is also a former New York Times columnist, the author of three novels, and the founder of Baristanet, one of the first hyperlocal news sites in the country.

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