Young breast cancer patient keeps an audio journal of her treatment and recovery

Photo of Dina's treatment team © UC Regents Dina surrounded by her UC Davis treatment team.

When Dina Howard learned she had breast cancer in the fall of 2005, she decided to record her feelings and tape her experiences.

That audio journal became a first-person documentary that aired in late December on Capital Public Radio, Sacramento's National Public Radio affiliate. The one-hour special remains available online at, along with photos and recordings from Howard's husband, her sister and her infusion nurse.

In addition, Howard has recorded an update, click here for the audio slideshow.

Desire for meaning

Howard was 39, with two young children, when she got her diagnosis. A desire to create meaning from her illness inspired her to approach Capital Public Radio producer Paul Connelly with a proposal to record a radio diary of her breast cancer treatment and recovery.

"One of the most valuable things during the days after my diagnosis was when friends or friends of friends who had already had breast cancer shared their experiences with me," she explained.

Connelly provided her with a digital tape recorder and an offer to help her edit her audio journal entries into a documentary whenever she was ready.

Record button on

She had her tape recorder with her from the very beginning. It was on in her hospital room following a double mastectomy. She carried it with her to an appointment with medical oncologist Helen Chew, the director of the Clinical Breast Cancer Program at UC Davis, and into the radiation oncology clinic, where Janice Ryu, an associate professor of radiation oncology, oversaw her care.

Howard's care team also included oncology pharmacists, radiation therapists, physicists, dosimetrists, a genetic counselor and patient education specialists. Listeners meet pharmacist Amy Tam, infusion nurse Mia Wilson and a radiation therapist who, in a warm voice, assures Howard, "You're almost done."

Read more about Dina in the current issue of Synthesis, the UC Davis Cancer Center magazine.