Behind the scenes of BCNA’s new Upfront About Breast Cancer series

What happens when a clinical psychologist skilled in treating cancer-related distress is suddenly diagnosed with cancer herself? Find out in BCNA’s new podcast series called ‘Upfront About Breast Cancer – What You Don’t Know Until You Do’, launching in OctoberThe 10-episode series features psycho-oncologist Dr Charlotte Tottman sharing her personal and professional experience of the impact of a breast cancer diagnosis. The Beacon spoke with Charlotte to learn more about her, how the podcast came about and what listeners can expect when they tune in. 

The day Charlotte was diagnosed with breast cancer is one she remembers vividly. She was 54 years old, a mother of four adult children, and had been married to her second husband for more than 25 years. She was also a clinical psychologist used to helping other people go through what she was about to experience herself.

‘I can remember that day like it was yesterday,’ says Charlotte. ‘It was Monday 23 July 2018 at 5.30pm when I found out I had a tumour and DCIS in my right breast. Suddenly, my life was split in two: the time before breast cancer, and the time after.’

Charlotte had a bilateral mastectomy and returned to work a few weeks after her treatment ended. But, like many women in her care, Charlotte pushed herself too far too quickly and soon found herself at a crisis point.

‘I hadn’t processed what had happened to me. A breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can be very challenging. I had to take some time out to work through my experience,’ she says.

Charlotte decided to write everything down, just to get it out of her head. Over time, her writing took on the form of a book and, when she showed it to her family, her youngest daughter suggested it would make a great podcast series.

Having previously spoken at some BCNA events, it was a natural step for Charlotte to partner with the organisation to develop the podcast episodes.

Throughout each episode, Charlotte draws on her background and personal experience as she explores the reasons behind people’s responses to a breast cancer diagnosis, and provides practical strategies to help manage challenging emotions.

From the first episode, aptly called D-Day: Diagnosis shock, Charlotte charts her own breast cancer experience. Intriguing titles such as episode two, ‘A Tale of Two Husbands: Emotional isolation’ or the humorous title of episode nine, ‘Exercise is Annoying (‘cos it works): The psychological and physical benefits’, promise lots of good advice and some light-hearted moments along the way.

Charlotte says it doesn’t matter where you are in your breast cancer experience; the topics are arguably relevant for any stage. They include the shock of diagnosis, the emotional isolation of a cancer diagnosis, changes in relationships, body image, shifts in perspective, post-treatment adjustment, the impact of cancer on sexuality and intimacy, the benefits of exercise, and the fear of cancer recurrence.

Most importantly, throughout each episode, Charlotte shares her professional advice about what is helpful if and when you face some of these common challenges. There’s a lot of research behind her tips and techniques to ensure you understand and can implement the suggestions.

‘At a time when mental health services are so stretched, I hope this podcast gives people, no matter where they live, access to empathy as well as a good understanding of what will help them and what won’t. These are proven strategies I recommend to my own clients,’ says Charlotte.

The series will be released all at once so you can choose to either binge it in one go or dip in and out. Each episode runs for about 45 minutes and features Charlotte in conversation with BCNA’s Upfront About Breast Cancer podcast host Kellie Curtain.

Ultimately Charlotte hopes the podcast helps people feel less alone. She also encourages listeners to tell their family and friends to tune in to help them develop a better understanding of the impact of a breast cancer diagnosis.

‘I really hope the podcast provokes meaningful conversations and helps listeners to form a deeper understanding of those aspects of cancer that you just don’t really know about until you do.’

‘What You Don’t Know Until You Do’ is proudly brought to you by JT Reid and launches on 6 October via BCNA’s Upfront About Breast Cancer webpage or subscribe to the podcast series in the App store or Google Play to receive an alert as soon as it is available.

To help us continue to develop podcasts that are relevant to our members and their breast cancer journey, we ask you to complete the survey that you’ll find in the show notes of each episode, which can also be accessed via the webpage. This survey will help us to tailor and create content that is relevant to our members and their breast cancer diagnosis.

Issue 89
Spring 2021