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After a chance encounter with a photographer for a major magazine, life seemed to be on the upswing for Tana Amen. Then disaster struck. This episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast chronicles a dark chapter in Tana Amen’s life, as she tells her story of how she had gotten cancer, not just once, but numerous times. These inspiring snippets are featured at length in Tana’s upcoming memoir, “The Reluctant Courage of a Scared Child”.
For info on Tana Amen’s upcoming free live virtual event, visit tanaamen.com/event
Daniel Amen, MD:
Welcome to the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen, BSN RN:
And I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.
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Welcome back. I am here with the world famous Tana Amen, author, neurosurgical ICU nurse, leader of the Brain Warrior’s Way movement, my best friend, my partner. So, we sort of leave off at the end of high school where you kick your Dad to the curb, for good reason, right? I mean, it’s not irrational. And then you do interesting things.
So for a while, life was just sort of vanilla, I guess you’d say, but it wasn’t bad. And again, doesn’t take a shrink to figure out my daddy issues, because I ended up dating someone much older, but I became a little more sophisticated, and traveled, and so life was just moving along. Finally, got back into school, realized I wasn’t stupid, I was doing really well in school and started to make some plans for myself. And I was approached by a photographer on the beach, who I thought was lying to me because of my past with modeling, but turns out he wasn’t lying to me, and wanted me to do a test shoot with Playboy.
And so, at first I thought, “Well, of course, I’m not going to do that.” But then I started thinking about it and I really wanted to go to school, go to college. My mom was very clear, “We don’t have the money.” And so I was trying to figure out how to get money for school. And I started thinking, “Well, maybe I can have the last laugh.” I felt like people valued me for the way I looked. Then I thought, “Well, I can have the last laugh. So I can take the money, do the Playboy shoot, and use the money for college, if I get accepted.” So I ended up doing the Playboy test shoot.
And then what happened?
Why are you looking at me like that?
I have no judgment. I think for most guys, I was listening to Dennis Prager’s book on happiness. And he talks about this one guy who his sort of… He was 40 and never connected with a woman because what he wanted was a playmate who studied the tour. And, when I listened to that, it’s like, “Well, I have a playmate who studies medicine and loves [crosstalk [00:03:31].”
Okay. They were never published. It was never published. I never-
Well let’s finish the story. What you asked me why I was smiling because I have this-
Are we doing this on the air for real?
This is really uncomfortable.
And your mom was sort of against you doing this too?
She wasn’t against it because of me being in Playboy, she wasn’t approved by any stretch. She was against it because of her visions told her that I was supposed to or going to marry someone important one day and it might interfere. Yeah. And I’m like, “You’re out of your mind. I don’t care about men anymore. I’m done with them. I’m tired of it. I’m not waiting for anyone to take care of me, doing it myself.” So I was a little bitter. Yeah.
All right. So you do the shoot.
I did the test shoot.
You did the test shoot and they decided to make you a playmate?
So that’s where things get wonky because I do the test shoot. And there’s a few months you wait in between before they call you back and schedule you. It takes a while. So during that time, I started to feel weirder and weirder. I started to get shaky, I was losing weight for no reason. And so I go to the doctor and he’s like, “You need to go get tested. There’s something wrong with your thyroid.” I had this big lump in my throat. And so I go to the doctor and sure enough, I have thyroid cancer. So in this in-between time, I find out I have thyroid cancer, which is just mind boggling to me. First of all, I’m like, “I don’t even know what thyroid cancer is. It doesn’t make sense to me. I look super fit. I look super healthy, sort of have my life going in the direction I want it to go, now. I’m doing well in school, have a job, going to get this money I think.”
And so things are moving in the right direction. But I’m told now I have thyroid cancer. Two weeks later, I get a call from Playboy. And they’re like, “Yeah, we’re going to schedule you.” And I’m like, “What?” I couldn’t even process it. And so the doctor, when I found out I had thyroid cancer, he’s like, “Well, at least you have… The good news is you have a slow growing form of cancer. It’s not going to kill you. It’s not terminal.” And so as soon as he said that, I’m like, “Oh good, I’m putting it on hold. I got to go do this Playboy shoot.”
But when they did more tests, he’s like, “Yeah, that’s not a good idea. It’s metastasized. It’s not just isolated in your thyroid. You cannot wait. Nothing else matters right now.” And so I was just sort of mind blown. I was numb. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t believe it. But I told them… What do you say to a Playboy editor when they call you, when they say, “We’re going to book you to be playmate.” And you’re like, “Well, I have cancer.” I mean, what? I have to put off doing the shoot to exploit my body because I have cancer? It wasn’t registering. And so it was just an awkward conversation. And she’s like, “Well, call us back and we’ll see if we can still work you in.”
I don’t even know, I thought she was just saying that to me. So I go through this whole situation with the thyroid cancer. And initially, I don’t feel well, but I’m starting to come back okay. I’m starting to recover, but I’m not feeling great. And then all of a sudden they call again and they’re like, “We want to actually test you again.” Well, she said, “We’re going to book you. Are you okay?” I’m like, “Well, actually I’m done with the surgery, but I’ve gained weight. I don’t think you’re going to want to book me. I’ve gained 10 pounds.” And she’s like, “No, come in, we’ll test you again.” I went in and did another test and they accepted me and I find out I have cancer again.
It came back.
It came back. I had to go through another treatment. And so it was at that point that literally life just unraveled. And I not only physically, just from the actual thyroid cancer itself and being low on thyroid treatment back then was very different than it is now. So treatment for thyroid cancer back then, you had to actually have no thyroid in your system. They couldn’t just give you a shot like they do now, then give you the radiation. It was six weeks of feeling miserable before you got the pill, the radiation. So I felt miserable. I didn’t understand that, that was actually part of my depression was actually thyroid related. No one really explained that to me. And I went into this deep depression. I had to quit school. I had to quit my job, lost the Playboy thing, filed for bankruptcy.
And oh, by the way, while I’m on my way because you have to stay isolated during the treatment, I find out the day I take the pills, I have to be around nobody for a week, that my mom has to have brain surgery, and I just lost it.
When we come back, we’re going to talk about depression. Stay with us.
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