Serena Hu believes that everybody has a story to tell. In the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s why she started a podcast.
The “Talk About Cancer” podcast is a weekly audio program featuring cancer supporters, warriors and thrivers from all walks of life. The show provides a storytelling platform for the guest to talk freely about their experience with cancer in whatever way they choose.
Hu, who had never worked on a podcast prior to “Talk About Cancer,” knows there are many different experiences to be had under the cancer umbrella, but also many common themes—like loneliness.
“The cancer experience is one of the toughest things that you’re going to go through in life, and when I was going through that experience, I was desperately looking for other people’s experiences,” explains Hu, who acted as a caregiver to her father as he battled late-stage kidney cancer. “It’s one of those ironic things. You have people around you who are very supportive, but I needed others who were going through what I was. There was just something very different about that kind of connection.”
After her period of caregiving came to an end, Hu used the time to reflect on finding an “antidote” to loneliness. She realized that capturing people’s stories in a podcast format could combat feelings of isolation that other people touched by cancer may be experiencing.
“For people who are going through the cancer journey, either for themselves or with a loved one, they could sort of passively listen to somebody else’s story and find comfort knowing they’re not alone, there are others out there struggling with similar situations,” says Hu.
Fueled by the fire of a passion project during the pandemic, Hu taught herself the ins and outs of podcast technology in her free time outside of work. A former social worker, her professional experience came in handy when she began to reach out to members of the community to source people for the show. Her social work background also gave her valuable insight on the topics she wanted her “non-professional,” everyday guests to explore.
When it comes to the content of “Talk About Cancer,” Hu is especially interested in how cancer affects interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. She encourages guests to talk not just about the medical ordeals they faced, but their stories of mental health, self-care rituals, communication tools, trauma responses, cultural norms and more.
“I really try to do this from a 360-degree perspective. And I really like to explore how cancer impacts people’s emotional experience, how that impacts their relationships with others around them,” says Hu. “I’m trying to paint the whole picture of when cancer happens to someone’s life.”
Another important aspect of Hu’s work in humanizing the cancer experience is passing the mic—literally—to underrepresented groups in the cancer community. She makes it a goal to provide a platform to those whose voices may be lost otherwise.
Episodes of “Talk About Cancer” have explored a vast array of stories, such as a man’s experience with his own breast cancer diagnosis; a Vietnamese man’s approach to grief influenced by his culture; and a Black woman and her mother’s dual encounter with cancer.
“I’m trying to say, ‘OK, who are we not hearing from as much?’” says Hu. “Not just because of numbers and availability but also different communities, different communities of color—especially minority groups—that may not have access to health advocacy. A big part of the mission is to try and elevate those voices, so they become more normalized, and in the process empowering them. They’re the ones who are bringing the perspectives of their communities to a wider audience.”
While the initial goal of “Talk About Cancer” was to offer solace to lonely listeners, Hu has found that the podcast is cathartic for the guests as well who don’t feel comfortable talking about cancer in their day-to-day life.
“For a lot of [the guests], cancer happens, you lose people. And then everybody else just expects you to move on. Or in the other case where people are longtime survivors, people stop asking about it because they don’t know what else to say,” says Hu. “I wasn’t expecting it, but my guests thank me for the experience because it gives them the chance to talk to someone who is really listening and curious about their experience.”
Producing the podcast has also helped Hu come to terms with the loss of her father. She recognizes that, as a caregiver, she approaches cancer from a different place than a warrior might. She knows the mental burden is not the same, but as someone who is still going through her grief journey, Hu has found the show to be a healing experience—and a humbling one, too.
“This show continues to open my mind to not just people’s experiences with cancer, but their philosophies about life and how you should live it to the fullest. I love that there’s no one right answer, and I continue to learn all the different ways that people are getting through hardships,” Hu says. “I think about this as not just my project. I am the facilitator. My guests’ stories are really what’s helping listeners out there.”
Listen to the diverse stories of the “Talk About Cancer” podcast at talkaboutcancerpodcast.com and on most podcast players. Get weekly snippets of the latest episode on Instagram by following @talkaboutcancerpodcast.