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Vancouver nurses, breast cancer survivors host podcast ‘Rotten Melons’

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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Meredith Pena, left, and Deanna Berger pause for a portrait at Pena's house in Orchards. The two host a podcast about breast cancer called "Rotten Melons" that is aimed at helping women as they go through breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship.
Meredith Pena, left, and Deanna Berger pause for a portrait at Pena's house in Orchards. The two host a podcast about breast cancer called "Rotten Melons" that is aimed at helping women as they go through breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

“Rotten Melons: When your boobs do you wrong.”

That’s the name of a new podcast started by two Vancouver nurses and breast cancer survivors. The podcast is aimed at helping women as they go through breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship.

Longtime friends Deanna Berger and Meredith Pena, both labor and delivery nurses, decided to start the podcast after they noticed that most of the information available online about receiving a diagnosis focused on data and hard facts.

“You can get data about breast cancer, but nobody’s there to tell you what it feels like to have breast cancer,” Pena said. “I have always been really open with my diagnosis and my treatment and want to share my experience with others so that as they’re going through it, it makes it easier for them.”

“We wanted to talk about the uncomfortable things that people want to know but people also don’t want to talk about,” Berger said. “As nurses, we’re used to talking about breasts and coping and those kinds of things. We thought it would be beneficial for people to hear these things talked about openly.”

They describe the podcast as “unfiltered real talk about breast cancer.” Topics covered so far include hair loss, anxiety, chemotherapy and toxic positivity.

Berger’s diagnosis came in 2018 when she was 38; Pena’s came last year when she was 47. They both had a double mastectomy and went through chemotherapy and radiation.

When Berger was first diagnosed, people reached out to her over social media and told her about their experiences with cancer, what it was like and what helped them cope.

“It was so helpful to me,” Berger said. “These personal experiences that people shared with me were more helpful than anything I had read online.”

The candid messages came from both people Berger knew well and those she didn’t know well. They gave her solace, and they made her want to be open about her diagnosis with others.

When Pena was diagnosed a few years later, Berger was there to help her through it.

“I reached out to her the whole time through my diagnosis,” Pena said of Berger. “She was the only one of my friends that really knew what it was like.”

Berger assisted Pena through some of her hardest days. She gave her tips and advice. She comforted her.

“It’s hard to go through the whole process,” Pena said. “Having cancer is really scary.”

With their experiences, Berger and Pena felt well-equipped to discuss breast cancer diagnoses and treatment. They understood the fear and pain of it, as well as the importance of having others to turn to for guidance and support in times of need.

Conversational format

Despite not having any podcast experience, the two women felt passionate and inspired to share their journey with others. They got together at Pena’s house in Orchards, with both speaking into a single microphone.

“We kind of learned as we went, and our sound quality gets better as we go,” Pena said.

The two liked the conversational format of podcasting, and they quickly found a rhythm.

“We’ve been friends since 2008, so we’ve talked a lot,” Berger said. “And we’ve talked a lot about cancer. So, it’s very similar to us just sitting down and talking as we would on the phone.”

Listeners have reached out to Berger and Pena about the positive impact the podcast has had on them as they go through cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“We’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback and messages from people saying how grateful they are that they found us and that they really love listening to us,” Berger said. “They feel less alone, hearing that somebody else has gone through it and gone through the same kinds of things that they are. It just makes us so happy to hear that, because that was what we wanted. We want women who are going through diagnosis, treatment and survivorship to feel less alone.”

It helps them, too

Future episodes will include conversations about depression, the impact of a diagnosis on family members, how to conduct self-examinations and interviews with other breast cancer survivors.

“We don’t give medical advice, but we are going to talk about how we found our own tumors and things like that,” Pena said.

On top of helping others, Pena and Berger said podcasting is helping them process their diagnoses. Berger has been cancer-free for three years, Pena since October 2021.

“It’s helping us process what we’ve been through, because you never quite get through it,” Berger said.

You can find “Rotten Melons” on most podcast streaming services, such as Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

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