A New York City voice actor is giving the world a glimpse into her journey through navigating breast cancer in a new podcast.
Tina Zaremba was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2019. Though she was in the early stages of the disease, Zaremba opted for a double mastectomy that summer prior to starting treatment, and has since gotten implants. She started chemotherapy in September and did eight rounds of treatment, followed by radiation in January 2020.
“What freaked me out the most was chemo. You always hear ‘cancer doesn’t kill, chemo does,’ and in the media and entertainment industry you always saw these horrific images,” said Zaremba. “The first four rounds were fairly short, an hour with the IV, while the last four rounds were long, about 4-5 hours. I was given taxol, which can lift your nailbeds or your nails could turn black. I ended up icing my hands and feet for 4-5 hours.”
As she underwent treatment, Zaremba found there were many things that go unsaid when talking about breast cancer treatment and recovery. While she expected that she might end up being weak and lose weight during chemo, she learned that most women end up gaining weight while in treatment, and even that her own treatment could accelerate different aspects of her life, and what she expected to happen did not necessarily happen to everyone.
“The chemo cocktail that they give my particular type of breast cancer pushed me into menopause. One day I’d be fine walking around the streets of Manhattan, the next day I’d be sobbing. Part of that was the fear, the other part was I was front and center with menopause,” said Zaremba. “I remember walking into my oncologist’s office and bawling, saying ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I think I’m crazy!’ and she said, ‘Oh, we just pushed you into menopause.’ I would have liked that memo in the beginning.”
Zaremba was surprised to find out how emotional the journey through breast cancer would be, but ultimately it gave her the ability to let go of some of the control she was holding on to for her own life.
“I think of going through chemo and breast cancer as my personal pandemic that kind of allowed me the opportunity to release the control that I was unaware of that I was plugged into, like wanting to control my life and have it be a certain way,” said Zaremba. “It’s given me the gift of knowing every fiber of my being what matters most.”
After finishing treatment, Zaremba decided to put her 15 years of voice acting to use while in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic and create her new podcast, “Chemo Stories.” The podcast explores Zaremba’s life as she navigated through her diagnosis and treatment, from what life was like being a mom and working while undergoing chemo, to her fears and the gifts she received along the way, to wig fitting and her ups and downs through her journey.
In her line of work, Zaremba did not have to necessarily be with other people the majority of the time. The few times she did go into the studio, she was met with support from her producers, but she still opted to not tell her clients that she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I do feel blessed that I was able to work during chemo because it gave me a sense of normalcy, but I didn’t tell my clients,” said Zaremba. “I posted about [the podcast] on LinkedIn and many of them emailed me saying ‘Oh my gosh, I had no idea you were going through this.’ There was a little bit of guilt at first with not sharing it, but a coach of mine shared with me, ‘You don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to,’ and at that moment I think I needed permission to not share it. And it was huge for me — with everything about wanting control and craving control, and feeling like your whole life has blown up, that’s the one piece you can hold on to.”
“Chemo Stories” officially dropped all 15 episodes on Oct. 1, making it binge-able for podcast listeners. So far, the podcast has had good reception from listeners, with Zaremba saying that her DM’s have been blowing up since the launch. Zaremba says that there have been people who may not have gone through breast cancer but had a family member that did and hopes that the podcast shined a light on how to be with them in a more authentic way.
Zaremba recognizes that what may have worked for her may not work for other people, but she hopes that the podcast can help those who are struggling on their journey through breast cancer while giving friends and family members some tools on how to be there for those who have cancer.
“When you have the flu, no one owns your flu. But when you get cancer, everyone owns your cancer and it becomes theirs,” said Zaremba. “I think it helped people recognize that you don’t have to own it and you can allow space for whoever in your life is hurting to just be and be that support for that person. At the end of the day, I share my story for what helped me, but everyone is different.“