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Tuning In to Hope
Dr Diane Reidy-Lagunes
Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center combines her training as an oncologist and her passion for helping others by hosting the informative and inspirational “Cancer Straight Talk” podcast.

If you are part of the cancer community, arming yourself with knowledge can be vital to feeling empowered when facing this complex disease. Countless tools are available to help navigate cancer and its treatment — books, pamphlets and diagrams collected after appointments, and even the dreaded “Dr. Google.” It’s a lot to aggregate and sift through, and if we’re lucky, these materials can provide solace and peace of mind. But often what’s needed most is access to person-to-person advice and evidence-based facts to help us feel confident and comfortable on the road ahead.

Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) is one such champion of knowledge-sharing. She’s taken on the noble task of sharing her discoveries and conversations developed inside the four walls of one of the world’s leading cancer centers with the outside world. She is the creator and Host of “Cancer Straight Talk” — a podcast unlike any other before it.

“What I’ve learned as I’ve gotten even more comfortable in the world of oncology is the importance of transparency and honesty — and hope,” Reidy-Lagunes shares from her office in the heart of New York City. “Even for a patient with an incurable disease, there is always hope.” 

dr reidy podcast

As an awarded medical oncologist with a focus on gastrointestinal (GI) cancers, the breadth of Reidy-Lagunes’ work is impressive. “I take care of common bread-and-butter pancreas, colon, appendix cancers, but [I] also have a primary research interest in these neuroendocrine and adrenal cancers,” she explains. “It runs the gamut of different types of malignancies.”

When she’s not spending her time caring for rare cancers, she’s recording a new episode of “Cancer Straight Talk.” Since its launch in 2020, the podcast has tackled some challenging topics with the intention to help listeners from all walks of life find answers to the questions that arise following a cancer diagnosis.

“I really felt like we were missing out on an opportunity to teach our patients and their loved ones more about the disease,” she says. “I also found that Dr. Google, which can be very helpful sometimes, can also just make the hurricane even more difficult by throwing in these curveballs about what you’re supposed to do that may be inaccurate or, quite frankly, just false.”

“I felt like to be able to have a platform that’s really evidence-based [with] the best available data we have, that can make a connection to anyone touched by cancer, could really be a gift.” Reidy-Lagunes says she loves how the podcast allows her to connect with patients — or anyone interested in cancer content — more broadly. “That’s what my team and I really strive to do,” she says.

And the wide range of topics covered leaves almost nothing out: cannabis and cancer, sexual health following treatment, insurance costs, sugar and cancer; she even has an episode exploring what makes life meaningful — topics that are most likely not being covered during an average oncology appointment. This is not the fault of doctors; the process just isn’t set up for these types of deep dives into very real and very personal discussions, Reidy-Lagunes explains. So, each topic is chosen for that very reason: its complexity.

“I think it’s a responsibility for us to share that type of information so that patients — even if they’re too far from MSK or a cancer center — can get that type of information, which can be critically important in terms of their quality of life,” Reidy-Lagunes says. 

“Cancer Straight Talk” allows listeners to take a remarkable peak under the hood — not only on how oncologists work, but how Reidy-Lagunes herself navigates the patient-doctor relationship with tremendous integrity, care and joy. Many find it refreshing to hear interviews with her own patients, as she does frequently on the series, who share personal stories. Reidy-Lagunes makes it clear she knows her patients well. 

“My own relationships with my patients have evolved over the years. As oncologists, this is that path we’ve chosen, and I do think it’s a privilege.” she says. “There are brilliant oncologists out there, and a wall doesn’t mean they don’t care. It’s just their way of coping, because we’re all human, and I think that is so critically important.”

Reidy-Lagunes says her favorite episodes are those that feature her patients as guests. “Every episode, we have to have a patient voice in there, because it’s so important to us,” she says. “So, if we have an expert on, where [the episode] really lends itself to the expert, then we’ll make sure we have those soundbites where, at least, we get that patient voice.” 

By default, the podcast has developed into a library for Reidy-Lagunes’ patients to browse, full of episodes brimming with helpful and relevant information and advice. Best of all, it’s free. Listeners even have access to episodes in Spanish, reaching as many patients and loved ones as possible.

Even for a patient with an incurable disease, there is always hope.

The thread throughout Reidy-Lagunes’ work is that she consistently champions health equity and access for all — her podcast serving as just one example. Recently, Reidy-Lagunes interviewed MSK’s President and CEO Dr. Selwyn Vickers, whose episode discussing “incomplete narratives” is a great starting point for new listeners. 

“Cancer is the great equalizer,” Reidy-Lagunes says. “It doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you have; whatever it is, anyone can be affected by these terrible diseases.”

When you peel back the layers of the doctor herself, it’s easy to see why she is so passionate about her work. Her mother is a math teacher, so math and science have always been part of her life, and her father was a New York City firefighter. From an early age, she felt the need to make a difference.

“I knew I wanted to go into a field where I wanted to care for patients, but ideally use the math and science background that I had,” she says. “When I got into college, medicine — and cancer in particular — was just on the cutting edge; you could feel that there were going to be opportunities to have science transform the way we care for patients, but it wasn’t quite there yet. To me, here was the explosion we were waiting for. So, I knew that there was just tremendous possibility to be in the world of cancer research.”

Since joining MSK faculty in 2008, her passion has never wavered. “For me, the most important thing is the patient of today; trying to care for them and understand,” Reidy-Lagunes says. “It’s such an absolute, tremendous privilege. Cancer is one of the most terrifying diagnoses that anyone could get, and it shatters your world. […] So, to be able to help patients navigate that and say, ‘We’ve got a plan,’ is such a tremendous gift for patients and their family members, and for me as well.” 

Reidy-Lagunes feels positively about the strides we’ve made in cancer treatment so far, and is hopeful for the future. “We’re headed somewhere really good, I can tell you,” she says with a smile. “It’s very, very exciting that the technology has really exploded. I think AI [artificial intelligence] and other technology is going to allow us to do things much faster.” She cites cellular therapies in particular, which “engineer” a patient’s white blood cells to attack their cancer. “These are phenomenal, game-changing therapies that right now cost a lot of money,” she says, but notes that advancements in technology are quickly changing that. 

“I anticipate that a lot of the therapies that we’re doing today that cost up to one million dollars are going to come down to [being] able to do them in a much more easily translatable way. […] The more we learn, the more we realize that cancer is probably hundreds, if not thousands, of different diseases,” Reidy-Lagunes explains. “But we’re getting much better at putting all those cancers into different buckets, so that we can appropriately personalize the therapy for these different types.” 

Reidy-Lagunes’ mission is to positively impact anyone affected by cancer. “We really want to empower anyone touched by cancer to take a listen and to learn, so that you can live a happier and healthier life,” she says. “We do want to debunk the myths that are out there, and we try very hard to do that, because we want our patients to have the truth, [but] that doesn’t mean that we’re giving up hope — we’re always hopeful.” 

Upcoming episodes of the “Cancer Straight Talk” podcast will be driven by listener feedback, so the team would love to hear from you! Email [email protected] for more information or to submit ideas for future episodes.

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