Today on The WoMed, Dr. Tali Lando Aronoff joins D and Dani to share her incredibly inspirational story of surviving breast cancer, her training and career as a Pediatric ENT, and her powerful book, To Hell and Back.
Today on The WoMed, Dr. Tali Lando Aronoff (@hellandbackbook) joins D and Dani to share her incredibly inspirational story of surviving breast cancer, her training and career as a Pediatric ENT, and her powerful book, To Hell and Back. Dr. Lando was born with the desire to achieve, admitting she started stressing when she was only in the second grade. Even though her training to become a Pediatric ENT involved putting her life essentially on hold for nearly a decade, Dr. Lando knew she found her passion in working with kids and pushing the limits of science to solve life-altering problems. Her path took a very unexpected turn when she discovered invasive breast cancer, just after having given birth to a premature baby and caring for her father. She knew her story was one that had to be told so she took her love of writing and turned it into a powerful memoir: To Hell and Back. Grab the tissues for this episode; Dr. Lando's story is incredibly inspiring and proves she is absolutely limitless.
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Absolutely Limitless with Dr. Lando
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D: Alright welcome back to The WoMed everyone! Dani and I are here with Dr. Lando, and we’re so excited to speak with her. She is a cancer survivor, author and surgeon and just I mean, I don’t know if you could… and mother and wife and all of the above awesome things? I don’t know how you do them all in one day. And help your daughters in core math.
Lando: Poorly, basically.
Dani: I highly doubt its poorly.
Lando: I was just talking… there was… there’s this facebook, surgeon moms group… and there was this really funny one where someone was talking about… like a total meltdown. Two of her kids; basically one kid shit in his diaper and it went through his pants and she was like changing the kid on the hood of the car and the other kid was crying and then she ran into a patient she had just done a breast reconstruction on in the parking lot. Who she said was perfectly made up and you know, looked like a million bucks. And I was just like, you know, that’s the perception verses the reality. If anyone knew what a mess I was in real life, they would stop being so respectful of how I balance it all.
Dani: Yeah, I love that story! Somebody just pooping their pants, bringing you back to reality and all of a sudden you’re changing a diaper on the hood of your car.
Lando: And she said she’s like leaning over the hood of her car and the woman is like, “Dr. Whatever, hi! I’m coming for my post op visit on Monday!”
D: They’re like I promise I won’t have poopy hands at that point.
Lando: I might, but I’ll maybe have washed my hands off by then.
Dani: That is so awful. Well we are thankful to have you, whether you’re a mess in real life or in fact you do have it all together. Because we feel bad for this is the second time we had you. We recorded you the first time and had a great conversation and had some technical difficulties. So we’re back but…
Dani: Yeah for real! So D, are you gonna take us off with the lubrication question?
D: Yes! So today’s wom… ha, todays womed question… Todays lubrication question is its kinda silly but its still great. Would you rather have to wear a wedding dress/ tuxedo everyday or be stuck in a swim suit everyday. Both would be flattering.
Lando: Oh so easy.
Dani: Yeah me too.
Lando: Tuxedo, no not even… second or third are way down.
D: Yeah! I would love to rock a lady tuxedo every day.
Dani: Me too, for sure.
Lando: I wish I could pull that off! I’m giving this talk coming up for this charity event…
D: Oh I think you could.
Lando: Oh I don’t know… so I’m giving this talk for this charity event, this cancer charity event in three weeks, and I was looking online at rent the run way and I saw one of those tuxedo… you know like where it comes all the way down, like the V of the tuxedo and you don’t have a shirt underneath.
Lando: I did not think I could pull that off actually.
D: Yeah! You could actually do like a body suit under it.
Lando: Uh huh…
D: Like a lace or sheer something because its gonna cover everything. But oh my God you would look like a smoke show.
Dani: Yeah you would look amazing, you definitely are super fit.
D: Like Blake Lively vibes.
Lando: I don’t know, with the short hair you kinda have to toe the line with the male/ female you know kind of look.
D: That’s why you throw on the lacey body suit. That’s just a little peek of sexy so you’re like… yeah.
Dani: I was actually gonna say does it have lace on it… for sure, but…
D: Yeah just throw all your styling questions my way, I’ll help you out as best I can.
Lando: That sounds good! You should just pick my outfit.
Dani: True! She’s really good at that!
D: Oh can I?! I would love that.
Dani: Also side note, of course she’s giving a talk at a cancer event coming up so we’ll get to hear all of the things that you do. But my favorite, well my favorite thing to start off with, is you are a Pediatric ENT surgeon. Correct?
Dani: Will you tell us all about your training and how many glorious years you spent in training and why you became a pediatric ENT surgeon?
Lando: So I started stressing when I was about 7 1/2 years old.
Lando: And that is not really a joke that’s the sad part.
Dani: That’s so sad.
Lando: I remember handing in tests in second grade and I was like “cannot fail! CANNOT FAIL!!!”
D: Oh my goodness, all I remember from second grade is my teachers guinea pig.
Lando: I know! But you know, skipping through that. I obviously had 4 years undergrad, and then I did 4 years medical school. And ENT is a 5 year residency. The first year is general surgery. So its pretty… pretty intense that first year. That’s kinda Grey’s Anatomy that year. And then 4 years ENT, head and neck surgery training and then I did a 2 year fellowship in pediatric airway surgery at CHOP. I did all my other training at Cornell and Columbia. And so at the end of the day, not counting 4 years of grad school it was 7 years of training. Um… which is why I always wanna like punch people in the face when they ever use the term… “You’re so lucky, you’ve got job security.” And I’m like, “LUCK HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT!”
Dani: Yeah! Like what the hell who says that? Who’s seriously says that!
Lando: One of my really good friends who is a lawyer, says you don’t understand what its like to have you know bill-able hours and where its not just good enough to be who you are. And I’m like What are you talking about… lady?
D: Like you still have to be REALLY good at what you do.
Dani: Yeah no kidding. I mean you're literally cutting on little kids airways and noses and stuff. You aught to have like whatever training.
Lando: You know everything is a big responsibility no matter what you’re doing. Um… and you get trained for it but I just don’t appreciate those who forget the toil because I basically… I mean you really do put your whole life on hold for about a decade and its you know… you just want a little acknowledgement, just a teeny, tiny bit.
Dani: Absolutely, oh my gosh.
D: I acknowledge you, I bow down to that.
Dani: I do too.
D: I mean I never went back for a nurse practitioner degree because I… I’m done with school. I can’t write another paper. I can’t take another test, I can’t do it.
Dani: And not to mention the strain that so many doctors have on relationships an what not just because… for various reasons but a lot of times you meet people in medical school with you and then you have different residencies in different places or you’re just super stressed out and the poor person at home waiting for you doesn’t understand what you’re going through. You guys have a lot more than just putting your head down and doing your training.
Dani: I mean like its hard to live a regular life for that whole time.
Dani: And sometimes after! So like mad respect for sure!
Lando: No, I mean I burned through an entire marriage during… during internship so I did not… when like people, that’s the other thing is like you know you see people as they are, where you know at this moment in time. So I have kids and a husband and the job and the whole thing. But that is not where I was in my 30’s. I was like… going through a really, really nasty divorce. I didn’t have kids and it was sacrificed because of the life style because of that persons belief that I was you know putting them as the least priority.
Lando: And then having a very predictable call schedule during which time its very easy to cheat on the other person.
Dani: yeah, yeah…
Lando: That’s really what it was. You now I did overnights in the hospital for 4 months. So if your spouse knows you are not coming home and they want to cheat on you, its really easy. And that is not an uncommon story. You know?
Dani: No its not. I feel like you’re not… its very vulnerable of you to even mention it but so many people go through the same thing and its super sad. So you are a perfect example of you literally just put your entire life on the line from 20-35 or whatever because of training. 18-35 in your case… second grade to 35.
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Dani: So what was the… why did you decide pediatric ENT?
Lando: Well I really always liked the pediatric population. Its was just the thing I gravitated towards since the beginning of medicine. But then I… I went into medical school like, “I will never be a surgeon.” Because in my mind, what a surgeon was- was this old school detached certain personality that was like general surgery type of persona and then I just really fell in love with the specific anatomy and this isn’t so unique to me. But many ENT’s its like they just like the anatomy of the head and neck. Its complex, there’s something like elegant about it and um… pediatric ENT I ended up in because I really liked finite solvable problems…
Lando: You know the other side of ENT is the total opposite. Its you know really bad head and neck cancers. Really sick patients. Really big problems you don’t solve and people don’t walk off into the sunset. And I just really like the small solvable problems. That being said, pediatric airway, like really complicated ex-preemies. They’re not… there’s a lot going on and you don’t just fix it right away but I just I like, I just connect with kids. I feel like I can put them at ease a lot better in my office and in the OR. Its actually weird for me at this point because I see so many young kids so if like a 16 year old drives themself into my office I’m like where’s the parent? Who do I talk to about this problem? You know… I’m not used to talking to the patient as the decision maker.
Dani: Yeah no that completely makes sense. For those of us who are not familiar with preemies with airway problems. What are some of the problems that you encounter?
Lando: We basically push the limits of science to the point where we can make a 23 week old very underdeveloped you know fetus really… baby… survive. But in order to do that though, their lungs are completely not ready to breathe and so they end up most of the time being intubated with an artificial airway and the problem is that’s your only option. You gotta… you gotta… breathe to live but having had the tube down there to support them all that time, your airway is not meant to have a big piece of plastic down it.
Lando: So there are a lot fo secondary problems that happen such as scarring of the airway that narrows it or um kind of disrupts little mucus glands that are inside the airway so you get these almost giant blisters of the airway. But the problem is anything that blocks your airway affects your breathing so a lot of these ex- preemies end up with… they’ll kind of get discharged from the NICU sometimes breathing on their own, and seeming pretty good but making a lot of airway noise and ultimately there’s something that needs to be fixed underlying it. You know sometimes they require artificial airways like tracheotomies and then it just kinda ranges from simpler to more complex problems but that’s like my favorite thing to do is fix airway problems in children and infants.
D: I’ve seen trachs fix so many issues. You’ll have like a perfectly fine, term new born kid that just like has major vocal chord paralysis or something like that or just has like something obstructing and all they’ll need or have like a big old fat heavy tongue that they can’t maneuver and its like they get their trach and they’re a whole new baby.
Lando: Right, right… Right I mean that’s the upside, the downside is that it takes you know a certain family to be able to manage that, and it sometimes relegates some of these kids to needing special care facilities. So you know, if you’re in the NICU, there’s amazing miracle stories and then there’s you know, really sad kind of long term neurologic problems. Yeah, where they just don’t end up walking into the sunset. So I mean this Friday for example, this past Friday I had one of those really, really awesome days where I had four kids with four different airway problems that were actually solvable. Like really solvable and those are my great days. Those are days were I’ll run around and show everyone my pictures. Like do you see this?? You know, look at this! Look at this before and look at this after. And you know, to the people that are in the PICU, the pediatric ICU that I’m dropping them off at or the anesthesiologist that weren’t in the room with me. And that stuff I get really passionate about. I actually had this kid on Friday, and he was in a house fire and he… it was really, he’s really lucky because it was some electrical short and his whole house burned down and he got out with really minimal burns for the severity of the fire. Like heal-able burns, you know second degree burns… but… he walks into my office. This was after discharge from the hospital and he does not sound ok with his breathing. So he’s walking around, he’s like 8 years old walking around but he had no voice and he had very noisy breathing and it was just so odd to me that nobody consulted ENT while he was in the hospital.
D: Yeah, like for smoke inhalation burns…
Lando: It was so weird, it was so weird. And then so I took him. I knew he was stable enough that I could leave him on the outside til I could get him on the schedule and then I took him to the OR and he had, just you know inhilational injuries. It was like three different levels. I had to do three different things to get his airway better because there was so much damage. But luckily for him I actually think… and this is rare that he is gonna do really well with some you know, non super invasive interventions that they can do endoscopically which I do a lot of where its with cameras and no cuts and so its pretty amazing. That stuff is super satisfying.
Dani: That’s awesome. And I feel like, I’m sure you know you have to have those days, where jobs you don’t have them, completely miserable.
Lando: I know!
Dani: Honestly, like sometimes in the ICU I’m just like, “oh my gosh can somebody live? Please?” Like I’m just dying for somebody to walk away. Sometimes I have to leave my unit and go to another unit where people can walk and talk.
Lando: Like go to the nursery and just see the cute babies.
Dani: Or something!
Dani: Or call a pet? Call a hospital pet or something but that’s awesome and I honestly, until we interviewed you, you were a profession that I never really gave a lot of thought to. And I mean that in the nicest way. But its just like, its not something I see on a regular basis and I just don’t… you know, its crazy how you get so locked into your area of the hospital and don’t know what else is going on. I don’t consult… I consult ENT but I don’t consult pediatric ENT by any means. So like Danielle knows more about it than I do…
D: Yeah they’re some of my favorite people.
Dani: What you do is just so cool.
Lando: But the NICU, I feel like there are times where I know all the nurses and have a real relationship because they know the babies like super duper well. So and then you know, for the kids who are like you said, the kids who are not just walking off into the sunset after one little intervention but yeah, I mean really feel extremely privileged that I found my profession. Like the specific little niche and it really fits me and I, and I… there’s a lot of monotony in any job that you do right? But you have to have the highs of when you really know you’re making a difference to you know balance the other stuff.
D: Yes. Definitely.
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Dani: At what point… and I’m just skipping to this… because you wrote a book about it.
Dani: At what point did your breast cancer happen? Where were you in your training, were you working?
Lando: So I had one kid um… one of my kids as a chief resident in my fifth year of residency. My second daughter in fellowship and then I finally you know became a real working person and moved out to Westchester and I had my third daughter and it was a very weird experience because I thought I was having a completely normal pregnancy and then basically had like to emergently deliver her because of really severe preeclampsia. Which was like right around the same time that, that part of Downton Abbey came out? So everybody was like afraid to let me watch that season where she like dies of eclampsia.
D and Dani: Oh god, oh God!
Lando: Because, you know, most like people don’t even know anything about it and you used to really die of it.
D: Its so common.
Lando: It was really crazy, now its really common. But any way, point is I was going along, you know operating and doing my thing and just feeling really invincible just in general and then you know I came in at whatever, 6pm to my OB visit. Routine, and ended up having to deliver her prematurely the next morning. So that was kind of like my first foray into being on the other side. But it wasn’t me it was this baby. I have spent so many… thank God she wasn’t a very, very fragile micro-preemie where I was like worried about her survival, but um I had never been on the other side of that. And I spend a lot of time in the NICU. So to be a parent in the NICU was like a total weird role reversal. Kind of like what it would be like as a nurse. Its like you’re not in charge, you’re the vulnerable one. You’re the one who needs to defer to everybody else and know what’s happening and feel very helpless. So that happened and obviously that was very harrowing and I went back to work and by the way, I had only planned to be off for 5.5 weeks because…
Lando: That’s how I do my…
Dani: I’m not, there’s nothing shocked about me right now.
Lando: I know, I know its just the way… I’m gonna work to the point I give birth and then I’m gonna come right back. And then obviously it got derailed. Not because you know, leaving like a… she came home from the NICU and she was like 4 lbs and I had a 2 year old and a 4year old. So I couldn’t really leave my nanny with a NICU baby and a 2 year old and a 4 year old. So I had to extend my maternity leave a little longer and I had really just gotten back to work. Probably… I guess like 3 months later but then again, you’re ramping back up. You’re becoming yourself again, you know you get any of these major life experiences like really hit you and then I was all the way back to super busy and really really stressed at home. And then, I just one night… I had, I have told you guys this story before, but it just was this time where nothing else could come down on you in your life, but you know my father had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor and it was another, you know… you know some people think of a man in their 70’s as old, but my father was… had no health problems and was like you know the head of a company and he was really the pillar of my family. My own life he had been just that… always the person that I turned to in every way.
Dani: And he was the best guy to everyone right? Like he was the guy to everyone.
Lando: He was just that person. And I tell this story because he ultimately lost that battle with brain cancer.
Lando: And there were literally 1000 people at his funeral, and it was silent… because that’s like the kind of respect level. You know, nobody said a word except for the people that were speaking. And I think it was just so representative of how it was when he was… he was never haughty. And that was the thing I’ve always grown up with. I guess its just part of my personality. Is just that if you are accomplished or good at what you do or you’re an impressive person, you do not need to project that sense of entitlement or sense of being better than anyone else.
Lando: And I just grew up with a person that should have been that way and wasn’t. And that’s probably one of his greatest qualities. Which is I think why so many people related to him. Because you could be like the Starbucks person who is giving him coffee and you could be the CEO of a company and he would kind of relate to you in the same way.
Lando: That’s a really special person. So he had just started with this realization that he had a brain tumor, after finding some word finding difficulties during a conversation with my mom and some of their friends. And um… even though I have three brothers and I am from a big jewish family…I am the only doctor in my family.
Lando: Um like literally not aunts, uncles, its really crazy.
Dani: That is crazy.
Lando: There’s alot of scientists, lawyers and bankers. Its not totally abnormal for a NY jewish family. But uh…
Lando: But I’m the only doctor. So I was really navigating everything with him and he was at Columbia. I’d had him transferred there which is where I trained. Yet again there was a lot of this being on the other side of things. This is all before it was me being the patient. So first it was my daughter. Yet again my family had been so healthy that I really hadn’t dealt with health crisis’ except for grandparents and old age. And…
Lando: Then my daughter is in the NICU and she gets out. Then my father has a malignant brain tumor and I’m at Columbia Presbyterian. You know, not as a resident but as the patients daughter. Advocating and then two weeks after that I… you know brushed my hand against my chest and found this giant tumor.
Dani: Oh my God.
Lando: And I really thought… what’s this? I’m not awake.
Lando: Like I can’t be awake.
D: This has to be a dream.
Lando: Yeah it has to be a dream because how is that even possible? It's almost like a joke right?
Dani: Oh my gosh.
Lando: And you know, you have those dreams. I have them all the time where I’m so not sure if I’m awake or not and you’re just like, “oh thank God! It was just a dream,” you know? Um and that was the sensation that I had. But it was definitely there when I felt it again in the morning and um… I talk about this a lot in my book which I’ll explain more later but I had a full day in the OR the next day and I just went to work. I told my nurse because she’s like always with me in the OR and she knows me really well.
Lando: And she told me to call the breast radiologist at my institution which I did and he was, you know he wasn’t dismissive in that he definitely kept the office open for me and said he would see me that day. Which is really amazing of him, but he’s like you just had a baby, I’m sure its just a blocked milk duct, I’m sure its nothing. And you know I said I don’t… hi, I kinda know what a tumor feels like and it feels like a tumor.
Lando: But you know, you want to believe that it's gonna be something else.
Lando: And then I just went. Like straight from the end of the day, right into the building that I see patients in which is where the radiology suite is. You know, mammogram and ultrasound. And I’ve said this many times, I didn’t even say anything. I didn’t tell my husband anything that night before because you know, my family is used to me digesting the medical information. He’s not in the medical field at all and I just… I didn’t want to tell him until I had some real data of like what was happening. So I go in there and have an ultrasound and a mammogram within a really short period of time. And it was… it was cancer. It was just cancer. It was not stage 0, it was not maybe, it just had every feature and it wasn’t small. And so I just already had this diagnosis of like invasive breast cancer really… that same day. And then that’s when I had to kind of, you know the whole world really came crashing down.
Lando: Because you can’t just work your way through that.
D: No you can’t.
Dani: No… no… oh my gosh. Where do you even go from there? I’m sure its like a whirlwind once you get a diagnosis.
Lando: I definitely had a lot of things that were very lucky about my situation. The first one was that I had somebody to call. And I called. I had actually just spent the weekend with her. Which I don’t do very often. It was like our first time that we actually brought our families together for a weekend. But my best friend from medical school became a breast radiologist and so I called her and I just blurted… I told her the situation really quickly. She said text me the images and I texted her and I’m sitting there in my robe crying in the waiting… well not the waiting room but where you walked out of the mammogram and the ultra sound and she just looked at them while I was on the phone with her and she said, “I’m not gonna sugar coat it.” This is invasive and no one really knew what the staging was. So I did get to talk it through with her a little bit which was good. I don’t remember any of what we actually talked about.
D: Yeah, you kind of block that.
Lando: And then I, and then I’m like oh my God. I have to tell my husband. Um… and I again, lots of people have to tell their spouse that they have cancer and breast cancer especially, but this timing of what was going on… because a little bit more of the back story is that my husband worked for my father. So we were like in it.
Dani: Oh my gosh.
Lando: Like deep, deep in it.
Lando: And I just couldn’t believe that I had to lay on another layer and its not because I’m self… selfless I just I don’t even know what to do but my husband I had to tell obviously and I just blurted it out. Like bluntly and quickly because there’s just no… what’s the point of sugar coating you know?
D and Dani: Yeah.
Lando: But like telling my parents was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do. Because I am an only daughter. I’m that doctor daughter. Extremely close with both of them and I was trying to tell my father how everything was going to be ok even though in my heart I didn’t feel that way about brain cancer. Its just the statistics are really not good and then to have to tell them that I had cancer and not you know… I didn’t have all the information initially so basically I didn’t tell them. I didn’t tell them and I went through the whole process on my own. I mean not on my own. I mean not with my… with my parents involved or my immediate family helping out. And then the day before my surgery, my brother just convinced me that it is not respectful for them as parents, to not tell them at all. Because that’s what I was about to do.
D: Yeah, like just in case something would have happened.
Lando: Yeah… but I was just like I can’t do it. I cannot sit these people down and put this on them. So I left it… I mean, I live in Westchester and my parents live in New Jersey and its about an hour and twenty minute drive. I left it til the night before my surgery… then at like 7:00 pm, I got into my car. I drove out, sat them down in the kitchen and just said everything’s gonna be ok, but I have to tell you something and then you know, I just told them. And then I just quickly kept talking about what the plan is and how its gonna be fine and you know I think I thought that it would be. And then it really was not until I got my final pathology and my whole prognosis was so much worse that like things really changed. The darkness stuff… was you know, peoples view of breast cancer in a general sense and luckily its true. Its highly curable and depending on your stage and your type. So its a little bit like “Oh that’s the good cancer!” Everyone… everyone called my cancer the “good cancer.” I was so pissed.
D: Oh Jesus. How about I put this tumor in your breast right now. And see what you… if its still the good cancer.
Dani: God! I just seriously, that would…its terrible!
Lando: Its really fucking annoying to be called the good cancer.
Dani: Seriously! It so minimizes it.
D: There is no good cancer.
Dani: Yeah like it freaking minimizes everything you’re going through… jeez!
Lando: Well they were just… I mean, think people, you know? They don’t know what to say, they’re trying to be encouraging.
Dani: They’re trying to be supportive.
D: They’re trying to… they’re trying to find something encouraging, some good thing to hold on to.
Lando: And to my mom, they’re trying to say you know, at least Tali’s got the good cancer, you know… but.
Dani: I bet she loved that. Jeez. So how long did the treatment take from that point? Like I forget, you had surgery, chemo, radiation or…
Lando: I had a bilateral mastectomy and a complete lymph node dissection and cuz like you know, usually people are doing the sentinel node dissection if they are just sampling the lymph nodes to see what’s going on. And because I already knew that I had positive lymph nodes before my surgery, actually they thought I had just one positive lymph node. Like one rogue, we don’t know how it happened. A little bit of cancer got away, but any way, even when that’s the case, you do a full lymph node dissection. So when I went into surgery, my… my surgeon thought there was a 50/50 shot of me needing chemotherapy and zero percent chance of needing radiation and really good statistics. And when I got my pathology, it was like the whole thing changed because I had… I had um like 18 out of 21 lymph nodes that were positive. Thats a lot. Thats like really a lot.
Dani: Yeah… wow, yeah.
Lando: And then there was like, you know micro invasion and micro metastasis you know and stuff like that but nothing palpable. And so then I had, you know… that my surgery was in July and then I had chemotherapy until… until January. You know really, its the common cocktail but its just really harsh. The beginning 6 weeks especially
Lando: Um of you know AC+T which is the common adriamycin, the red devil, the really, really hard one and then eventually you do something called taxol which is easier but you’re still kind of down from the first cycles.
Lando: And then I did radiation from January to March and um… and for radiation I went back to work but I did not work during chemo because I just… I don’t know. People do it, I just… I couldn’t operate at a level that I thought was good enough for the patients and I can’t… I’m a surgeon so you can’t just see patients in the office because who’s gonna fix them?
Dani: Who’s going to do the surgery?
D: Yeah you’re like, “sorry I can’t do this until…”
Dani: Consult? You want the consult.
Lando: Yeah, so it was a really long road. And it was you know I think that the hardest part was just losing your identity.
Lando: My identity is so mixed up in being a doctor and a surgeon and taking care of other peoples medical problems, not necessarily all their other problems like life problems, but when I didn’t have that anymore its like… I know that it seems like… like right now I think where I’ve come to eventually is, that there’s all these other parts of my life but at the time I couldn’t remember what they were.
D: Yeah… So when did Hell and Back come… come into play?
Lando: As soon as these events started happening… even from the first time of diagnosis. I was like a writer my whole life. Never a book but always just like that was something that I really prided myself on and I actually thought that’s what I would do in college but then you know, that didn’t really easily translate into a career. So it was something I was always passionate about and then I started writing things down as something crazy would happen. Like the first… just the initial diagnosis, it was such a crazy situation. So I started writing this… my book really, originally as every time something ironic would happen or something funny would happen or something I thought, “wow nobody else, maybe nobody else knows about this,” because I sure as hell didn’t know about it and I thought I was in the know. So I’m just going to write down this really succinct story that could be something that other people could learn from or laugh at or feel related to. And it just kept going and my… I guess my saga became so encompassing of a lot of experiences that people have. Like thank God I didn’t have stage 4 metastatic- distant metastatic cancer. Because I think that short of that, I went through almost all the other… touched on you know the surgical part, the loss of your sense of… of your sense of your positive body image. Chemo, radiation, family relationships, intimacy issues, the after math finding yourself again and every single one of these stages just kind of rolled out to be what to me seemed a pretty comprehensive experience and… and I just thought this could be this amazing “what to expect when you’re expecting” of breast cancer. Like if I could just get it into the shape that it needs to be. Like funny, and succinct and relatable and easy to read and like that was my goal.
Dani: Wow. I certainly think that you accomplished it. And I really like the story about you just being like… I can’t remember the exact question I asked you last time, but you brought up a story of after you wrote the book. How after you wrote the book you went to a book reading at Barnes and Noble and you saw your one patient there or something, but I think its so inspiring because you basically wrote this book to help other people and it was probably a healing mechanism as well. Healing for your soul, I’m assuming- correct me if I’m wrong, but then you will just like do anything to get it out there. And probably after cancer, showing up to Barnes and Noble with one person kind of sucks but it can’t suck like anything you’ve already been through.
Lando: Its very true that you had to like… listen, you have to like really get some good armor for your ego when you do these things because it is not easy and every time that I put it all on the line, related to my book, and I’ll give you some examples. I’m like I will never effing do this again. Its so demoralizing but its just like one good thing might come out of it and that’s the perspective you really have to have. One person might walk in there and they might be a person that actually… who’s spouse had breast cancer, or who’s mother had it or sister had it and you don’t know the way you’re connecting to them. And so here’s like a really crazy story that I did not tell you last time because it hadn’t even happened. I was working on this just as a total chasing down my dreams in any direction they might lead me, but one of the chapters talks about Pink Night at the beauty bar. Which was when I was in the middle of Chemo and it was October and I thought you know, I gotta do something for breast cancer awareness month but I was like, I am not a survivor right now. I am in the middle of it. So I was not up for like a walk or anything that was proclaiming that I am going to get through this and I wasn’t ready to make that commitment. I didn’t really feel secure that I had this future at that point. And I honestly wasn’t being told that I did by my oncologist. But anyway I gotta do something. So one of my really close friends who really got me through that time, she was like I heard about this Pink Night at the beauty bar which is at the original Bloomingdales… actually is in White Plains, NY which is right down the block from me and they were doing this make up event that was really low key and its, you know its Bloomingdales and its near by and I really got myself decked out which was really hard. I had no hair, no eyebrows, no eye lashes so its like you know make up was ironically a really weird way that you could still feel human, and not like a patient. So it kind of had that symbolism and I was like poster child cancer patient. I mean everybody was staring at me because I was so obvious, you know and I got like a bajillion free samples. They like… the one, its totally fine, the one reporter that was there from the Westchester Standard or what ever, was following me around the whole entire night… they were taking pictures of me. So it had this big impact. This being like… like I’m that poor cancer woman, you know. When I finished my book, where are like the places I could get some traction, just as like a self published author. And I’m like one day I’m going to do an event back at Bloomingdales, but its going to be my book event, not me as a patient. So that was always in my head, however I had to actually make it happen. And I actually ended up befriending one of the make up artists at Laura Mercier. Do you know who Laura Mercier is?
Dani: Yeah! Tinted moisturizer oil free.
D: Yeah! I totally love her stuff.
Lando: Exactly, of course, so I totally love her stuff. And I became friends with this woman and we um…and we, I used to go in there a couple times when I would have an event and we ended up really becoming friends. And so we developed this idea. She’s like we’re gonna figure out a way to do a book event. And so I planned it starting from about four months before October, because it was breast cancer awareness month. The whole thing was coming full circle. And the way that I really got enough credibility for them to even be willing to do it was actually social media. It… it was having enough followers on Instagram that whether its true or not, there for I had the credence to… you know, because otherwise who am I?
Lando: Just like some doctor that wrote about her breast cancer experience and wrote a book about it. That doesn’t have the… that doesn’t have the same gravitas as 25K Instagram followers in modern day perception, you know?
Dani: Yeah which we’ll mention that.
D: Yeah, which your social media account is fantastic and we’ll get into to that too.
Lando: Thank you for that. So anyway point is, I… I had this whole thing going and this woman Trish, who is the make up artist you know, she had a boss and then she had a boss’s boss and her boss’s boss is a woman named Lenoir. And she was working on this whole… you know, this whole event with me….
Lando: Three weeks before the event she instant messages, not instant message, she sends me a message on Instagram because she didn’t really have my cell phone and she says I knew there was a reason why you came into my life. Yeah… I just found out I have breast cancer.
Dani: Oh my gosh.
Lando: And it was really crazy because, I mean we were working on this thing and it was really overlapping time wise. So here’s the really gonna give you chills part of it.
D: I’m like crying over here right now.
Lando: Well so she was still really into it. She didn’t want to let anything fall through the cracks. And at the time I didn’t have a lot of information but luckily she had found her breast cancer on a screening mammogram so it was not advanced and that was really amazing. I didn’t know that and I was afraid to ask too many details. But it turns out…
Lando: So her surgery was scheduled on the night of my event. So that was just… on the day, sorry of my event. Which was just weird, because how did that happen? She didn’t choose that day and she was apologizing again and again and she’s like I can’t believe I’m gonna miss it after this whole long road we’ve went down together.
Lando: And I had also talked to her obviously in the mean time about surgeons and treatment and places and stuff like that um… but she showed up.
D: After her surgery?
Dani: To your event? After her surgery?
Lando: Yes, she did.
Dani: Oh- my-gosh!
Lando: So she had a lumpectomy.
Lando: Which is you know, obviously you’re not going to show up if you have a mastectomy because you’re still in the hospital.
Lando: But still, she shows up at the event.
Lando: With both of her kids.
Dani: Oh my God, wow.
Lando: Here’s the craziest…
D: I feel like she’s going to beat cancer off of strength of will alone…
Lando: When she gets there. She comes with her son and her daughter and her son says, “I know you.” And I’m like, “what do you mean you know me?” He’s like, “you saved my life.”
D: NO! OMG!
Lando: I’m like I don’t remember what you’re talking about. So turns out 4 years prior, this 21 year old came in while I was on call, with a… bleeding profusely after a tonsil surgery performed at an outside hospital. And I was the person on call. And I took him to the OR and he was like, massively hemorrhaging and they figured it out because when the mom was talking about me again and again and this event they were going to go to together that she was coming to, to support how I had supported her. The son went on social media, sees that my name is Dr. Lando and puts it all together. He’s like that’s the woman that operated on me that night in 2014.
Dani: Omg I have chills from head to toe. I can’t believe it.
D: Oh my god, the universe is so crazy!
Lando: Freaky! And in their minds, I’m not saying other people couldn’t have done what I did that night. These are things that we deal with all the time but in their minds, there was this surgeon who had saved this kids life. This you know, boys… you know 21 year olds life and then they put it all together. So when I was giving my little talk in Bloomingdales this woman, the woman who had just had a lumpectomy, she like literally screams out, “she’s a saint! She saved my son’s life! She’s saved my life!”
Lando: I’m like, ok take it down a notch.
Dani: Oh my gosh that’s incredible.
D: That’s so amazing.
Lando: It was crazy! It was just like what you said, the universe is just like weaving things in and out and my point is, I had a nice turn out to that event, that I had worked really hard on, but they were all people that I already knew.
Dani: That’s so crazy.
D: But that’s all people that love and support you so much. That you have touched. Your… your reach is so profound… wow. I’m so glad we get to speak with you again; I love hearing your story. Its so inspirational and that sounds so cliche to say but you’re just… you’re a freaking wonder.
Lando: But I think my bigger point, I mean despite the fact that that story is really… was unbelievable and unplanned, what I’m trying to say is… I on… despite all of that, I was like, “I’m still a giant loser because there are no people here that I did not personally make come tonight.”
Dani: Oh my God stop!
Lando: I promise you!
D: Quality not quantity.
Dani: True, and what are the odds that there’s one person you touched through your medical career and another person who happens to be his mother that you touched because of what you're doing for your breast cancer.
D: Its the two parts of your life.
Dani: You know? Its just so unreal. Yet another example of you don’t care who you reach as long as you’re reaching someone and that’s why you go about doing this on a daily basis.
Lando: And that was kind of the point of it all right? Because you can’t you know… but I still on that day, before all of this happened, before I knew any of this was going to happen… and all of my friends are texting me like, “I’m not gonna make it, I’m stuck in a meeting, I don’t have a baby sitter.” And I’m like cringing and getting like more and more and more in my shell and feeling like why did I do this?
Lando: Put myself out on the line and think that I’m… you know gonna get a crowd just by going out to speak and at the end of all of it, its like… you know what I mean? That’s why it was all worth it. That moment.
Dani: Yeah… yeah. That’s unreal. So what are you doing… what are you doing now? What’s next? What’s your mission? What’s happening?
D: Learning core math…
Lando: Exactly, you know, I keep… I keep really um… struggling with this question because I did try to give myself a time frame. Like I published my book last May and I thought that I give myself a year. That’s what I told my husband by the way. I give myself this year to pursue different avenues to go to every event that I’m invited to speak at. Whether it be a high school library event or whether its Altheta like the store has these… or whether its Barnes and Nobles which they didn’t ask me, I asked them or whatever it is, I just said yes to everything.
Lando: Even two weeks from now, I’m going to speak in Brooklyn. But I’m going to speak to this ultra orthodox Chasidish population and I’m talking to them because there’s a real problem in that population about screening.
D: Ohh ok.
Lando: And I’m going with my friend who is a Breast Radiologist. Really to just try to be a force of you know… there’s a belief in that community of why find out because what are you gonna do about it? As if there isn’t something to do about it. And trying to disavow them of that way of thinking but the point is that seems so off topic from my book but I keep trying to just move. Like allow it to branch off into all directions but at the end of it all, I still have this dream that you know, Oprah’s gonna open it up one day and be like “oh yes! This is what we needed out there!”
Dani: This is great.
D: I’m gonna tag her in the post for this. And she probably won’t see it, but still.
Lando: And the thing is, even though I’m saying that and being a little cheeky… really what… what I’ve realized…
D: Put it out into the universe, its clearly giving you all of these people.
Lando: Yeah… I think what I keep trying to remind myself is that, that’s actually not the point. Because what the point is…
Lando: Is the girl that I knew from college who I haven’t seen in a million years who had breast cancer, who texted me, “hey, I just read your book for the second time.” That’s the coolest thing that I’ve heard all day.
Lando: She went through it and she actually wanted to read it a second time. So if it resonates that much with even just one…
Lando: Woman in their 30’s or 40’s in the thick of it all with all these obligations and um… that’s… that’s pretty amazing and I got to take that of being the goal instead of some fame that we’re all chasing or some like instant gratification of people paying attention to you and its hard right? Its hard to not get sucked into.
Dani: Its very hard.
Lando: Wanting it to be bigger scale.
Dani: No its very hard. I’ve had my blog since 2014 and the biggest struggle for me is absolutely defining a mission of it.
Dani: I could say a lot of things, but sometimes when I look at what I’m doing I’m like, “what are you doing?” Like every other post you make a meme and then you write something a bout your life and then you go on line and write something more about your life and you just hope that your own story like touches someone or makes a change some where and I think like over the last 5 years I’ve realized that it actually does make a huge difference and people do follow you for your story.
Dani: And just by the fact that I’ve always been a really vulnerable person and I think I grew up believing that everyone was vulnerable and capable of sharing and happy to share just because that’s the way I am, but that’s not the truth.
Dani: So like the fact that you’re doing it, is just going to attract people to you, and its kind of I think a game of who can hang in there the longest. I mean you have 25k followers, there’s a time I had 25K followers and eventually…
Lando: And now you’ve got like 104k or something?
Dani: There’s… that now its like 111K, but who’s counting?
Lando: Sorry, I cheated you out of the last 7K!
Dani: But eventually you keep going and trying new things and somethings work and some things don’t and you realize what you really like and I feel like it just transpires over time and its sort of like survival of the fittest and if you still love it after 5 years just keep going and if you don’t love anymore then just go in a different direction and so far its all worked out for me and I do really enjoy it but I have had to switch directions a few times. And I feel like that’s just what happens to anyone.
Dani: Thats kind of what you’re doing! I mean crap!
Dani: You friggen had breast cancer, you have a crazy story, I mean you have something to share and you should share it. I’ve heard your story before and you tell me again and I still tear up when you talk about it. Especially when you talk about your dad if not the whole series of events and everything terrible that happened to you, you know?
Dani: To create something good out of some really terrible things. So I just, I love hearing stories like this and I know other people will.
Dani: Particularly related to cancer. Because its just such a bitch.
Lando: Its such a bitch. Did you see my post… my cancer is an asshole t- shirt post?
Dani: No! Was it recent?
D: Nooo I think I missed that one!
Lando: Yeah its really recent and its a really cool t-shirt. I feel bad because I cannot remember where I got it. It was on Etsy and its just like a cool t-shirt but its in like gold script, “cancer is an asshole.”
D: OH! ITS SO COOL!
Lando: Yeah its like a nice looking shirt but you can’t like go around wearing it every day.
Dani: Oh my gosh that’s so funny! I looked at your post, I read it but I didn’t realize that your t-shirt said cancer is an asshole.
Lando: I know because I’m turned a little bit right? I was trying to get the angle where you could read the t shirt but its really hard to read and I just thought it was boring to just stand there. So my daughter has tennis practice and I actually don’t play tennis and I made the tennis instructor, like have me hold the racket and she’s like you are pathetic because I was not holding it the way you do if you actually knew how to play tennis.
Dani: Its all about the t-shirt.
D: Yeah but its all about the t-shirt!
D: I think you look great in it. You’re just, I feel like if I were to try and describe you in one word, it would be limitless.
Dani: She is.
Lando: That is so sweet.
Dani: For sure you are. 100% like its very easy.
Lando: Just to reiterate though, you don’t think its a little insane that I plan these videos in the OR to random songs?
Lando: And make people do them with me?
D: I don’t ok… this is like… last thing I wanna keep you for, I know you gotta go and teach the girls core math.
Lando: Please save me.
D: About your Instagram… its so empowering and cool and you do these awesome videos in the OR and like your content is so real, its so relatable and it even for like the lay person that isn’t in medicine… like they can go and they can… everyone wants to see what the body looks like on the inside.
Dani: Oh 100%, yes.
D: Every one likes pimples being popped, everyone wants to see what your innards look like. Its human curiosity and you just… like the foreign bodies post- its so wild!
Dani: I do love that post and you know her most recent resident video post?
Lando: Did you like that?
Dani: I love it! And I just was watching and I wished that I worked somewhere I could make posts like that. Make videos like that and not get fired.
Lando: I’m gonna get fired. Who said I’m not getting fired? I’m definitely getting fired?
D: You are too valuable.
Dani: I don’t think they’re gonna fire you.
Lando: I don’t know because I just did a spoof on getting high on the anesthetic gas that is so, SO crossing the line. And I got this anesthesiologist to do it with me because he gets me but I’m like, if anyone from administration sees that, I’m seriously going to get fired.
D: Well you could just blame it on a nitrous leak?
Lando: That’s the worst thing to blame it on!!
Dani: Put a disclaimer on it- they’ll slap your wrist but you just like ok I won’t do it next time. I always… Im a huge proponent for asking forgiveness and not permission. So I would throw it out there and wait for my wrist to get slapped. No your videos are fantastic. We tell people their accounts are cool but we really do love your account.
D: And your daughters should know, that we think your videos are super cool and we think you are super cool.
Dani: You’re living my dream of 3 girls.
D: Dani’s gonna have like 3 boys for sure.
Lando: And plus like… don’t wish for that until you realize that like you’re gonna have three teenagers with their periods at the same fucking time.
D: Because everyone cycles up!
Lando: Its gonna be a nightmare.
Dani: True, true.
Lando: My husband already hides in the back yard and smokes a cigar when it gets too intense in our house.
Dani: Your poor husband.
Lando: God knows what he’s gonna do then.
D: Oh bless him.
Dani: That would be my boyfriend for sure. Just getting chill in the back yard while all the chaos happens inside.
Lando: All you see is a little like… I am very against smoking but I give him once a month reprieve for a cigar which I don’t count as a cigarette. Just because its very intense to live in my house.
D: Ugh cigarettes are the worst.
Dani: I cannot imagine but I love it.
D: Dr. Lando thank you so much.
Lando: You’re welcome.
D: You’re limitless. I’m just going to keep saying it, You’re limitless.
Lando: Oh thank you.
Dani: Do you wanna take us out D… like you always do?
D: Oh wait! Where all can people find you?
Lando: Yes! Yes! Please find me! So on Instagram I just was very consistent. Its @hellandbackbook also facebook same thing, Hell and Back Book and I have a website that has a lot of other goodies, like personal back ground information and some blog. Although I don’t do a regular blog, that is also www.hellandbackbook.com and so I’d love, I really love to meet new people. I try to get back to anyone that has any specific as long as its not a stalker.
D: Ugh… lord. Had some of those.
Lando: Or someone who claims to be in the military but its like Alex.1956y
D: Sorry Alex.
Lando: Hi, you look a little Ukrainian, I don’t think you’re in the American military but ok. You know I’m gonna keep it going.
D: I think you should.
Lando: I feel like I use my social media to kind of do a little unification of my microcosm world in the hospital and people seem to feel like they’re a part of something and it gets a lot of positive feed back.
D and Dani: That’s amazing.
Lando: Ok well it was great talking to you guys!
D: Its been so lovely to talk to you too. Um I really hope we can all meet in person some day if we’re all like up in NY and grab some coffee. Go move all of your books to the front at Barnes and Noble or something.
Lando: Oh my gosh that’s gonna be really tough because I don’t even think they stock… I don’t think they have it in stock but you know.
D: Well then we can take them in.
Lando: That would be so cool.
D: And place them perfectly. Just leave a stack on the best sellers table.
Lando: I would love that. That’s just like my husband just nailed “children at play” signs totally illegally all over our neighborhood and I’m waiting to get him arrested for this.
D: That’s amazing.
Dani: I love it.
D: That’s really funny.
Lando: The funnier thing is we took a walk on Saturday and I’m like wow, when did these signs get here? And he’s like I dunno? He left me like half an hour trying to figure out which family got permission from the town to get these signs put up when I have been trying to do that for years. And then he’s like I dunno maybe its someone in the grey house and I’m like but we live in the grey house…
Dani: Oh my gosh!
Lando: And he’s like I know! And I’m like O-M-G!
D: You just outted him on the podcast…
Lando: I know, I know but no one knows where we live.
Dani: Oh gosh I love it! Well thank you so much again.
Lando: Talk to you later!
D: Well this has been another amazing episode of The WoMed. Thank you guys so much for listening. As always you can like, rate, review, follow us on Instagram @thewomed on twitter @thewomed I’m D!
Dani: I’m Dani!
D: And we are The WoMed.
Dani: And we are out.
D: We are out!