Episode 54: Balancing Act - Navigating the Reality of Cancer with Michael and his Mom

In this episode, we interview mother and son Ashlee and Michael, hosts of the podcast “Michael and Mom Talk Cancer." They share their personal cancer experience and discuss topics such as managing work and finances, the impact of cancer on athleticism and identity, and the importance of maintaining positivity and mental health. They also touch on the concept of toxic positivity and how different individuals have different approaches to dealing with their illness, the challenges of comparing stories and outcomes, as well as the balance between quantity and quality of life. Michael and Ashlee share their experiences of living with the constant reminder of mortality and finding joy in the small things, while also emphasizing the importance of connection and offering practical tips for navigating the cancer experience.

  • Michael Cramer

    Meet Michael Cramer, a 22-year-old cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, known for his social media influence. Born in Paris and raised in Miami, Michael's athletic background includes surfing, skating, and being part of the Olympic Development team for windsurfing.

    Turning their heartbreak into a story of "beauty in pain" and love, Michael and Ashlee started a podcast called "Michael and Mom Talk Cancer," along with a website, blog, and YouTube channel. While Michael is still in treatment for complications, he is alive and in remission. Together, Michael and Ashlee strive to fulfill their purpose of love and connection, inspiring not only the cancer community but anyone in need of motivation.

  • Ashlee Cramer

    Ashlee, also known as "mom," has a diverse background as a dancer turned early childhood educator turned cancer caregiver. In 2014, tragedy struck when her husband was diagnosed with Large B Cell Lymphoma. Ashlee became the sole provider for their three children while caring for her husband until his passing in 2016, which brought the family closer together. In July 2020, heartbreak struck again when Michael was diagnosed with an incredibly rare and aggressive cancer, Hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma, with less than 200 documented cases ever. Despite the average survival being only 8 months, Ashlee quit her job to care for Michael full-time. After enduring chemotherapy, radiation, a bone marrow transplant, and various life-threatening complications, Michael miraculously survived. Throughout his journey, Ashlee never left his side, strengthening their unbreakable bond.

Watch the video of our episode on YouTube

  • 23 minutes:

    “I found other things that keep me extremely happy. I've been playing electric guitar now and that's been one of my things which I love and I'm just so happy I found music. I feel so happy playing it. It's not the same as windsurfing or surfing but it's just as equal as an amazing feeling I get. I can do so many other things like advocate, do podcasts, help others, and lead support groups. There's always things in life that are gonna make you feel a certain way that other things made you feel and you just have to find those, modify it, and adapt. I always talk about not playing the victim role when you get something like cancer or chronic illness and a lot of people do. And not to make fun of them like fun or make them feel worse, but you can't be a victim when you have something like a chronic illness. You can't just be like, oh my god what am I gonna do? My life sucks. I'm gonna sit around all day watching TV and beside. You have to get off the couch. Do something and figure your stuff out or else your life is going to be miserable and it's going to be worse for the people around you. Like if not doing it for yourself, do it for those around you because you don't know how long you're going to have this disease for. You don't know if you're going to live but you just have to be able to find that happiness because it's your life and that's it.”

  • 33 minutes:

    “What I want to say is cancer puts mortality in front of you. Yes, I can walk out the door and I can get hit by a car and I can die today, of course, but there is still a huge enormous difference in living with cancer or living with a chronic illness afterwards because your mortality is constantly in front of you. It's reminded twice a week when he gets labs. So of course I can think to myself, yes, I'm learning my lessons from Michael, I'm learning my lessons from my husband, and I try to embody that, that I learned those lessons of perspective and living life, but at the same time, I think it is different when you're going through cancer because it is right there that death… You think that sucks and they're unlucky. When you have cancer, you're living with a constant reminder. Every single day. Of course, gratitude and perspective, but you're constantly being reminded, you know, and in a way that is kind of an advantage because it really does remind you and that is a kind of gift in a weird dark way.”

  • 42 minutes:

    “I think that's one of the hard parts is you when you go through it and as a caregiver as well, you tend to want to take everything on and just kind of isolate yourself a little bit, not everyone, but a lot of times it's a very isolating experience. And you know, there's so much research which has nothing to do with cancer, but about longevity and health and happiness, how connection is the key to those – longevity, health, happiness are all, if you have connection, they all improve. So even when you're going through the cancer diagnosis, if you're a caregiver, like try to find that connection, whatever it is, maybe it's a support group, maybe it's not. Maybe it's just one person you can talk to, but if you can find a connection, I truly think that will help. And also when you're in the hospital, make sure you have a cozy blanket because their blankets are horrible.”

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