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Talking With: Entertainment Couple Stephanie Czajkowski and Collin Friesen about "ChemoSkinny"

by Bea Jones about a year ago in advice
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Interview with actress Stephanie Czajkowski and writer-director Collin Friesen, who turned their cancer battle into a podcast to help other couples survive together.

"ChemoSkinny": a new podcast from Stephanie Czajkowski and Collin Friesen

This edition of Talking With focuses on actress Stephanie Czajkowski, and her writer-director husband, Collin Friesen. She is best known as the bald badass Hammerhead on the DC Universe series “Doom Patrol”. He wrote the feature film “The Big White,” worked on the Fox series “The Long Gunmen” and the first season of “Schitt’s Creek.” Together, they recently launched the new podcast series, “ChemoSkinny,” to help other couples battle cancer without breaking up.

After Stephanie was diagnosed with three different types of unrelated cancers within an 18-month period, the couple felt like they were living on a roller-coaster. Now, after a year of full remission, the couple is telling others exactly “what to expect when you’re expecting a tumor” as a way to prepare them for the bumps and lumps along the way.

To learn more, we are Talking With: Stephanie Czajkowski and Collin Friesen.

Why did you want to create the podcast “ChemoSkinny”?

STEPHANIE: We didn’t set out to create a podcast. Early on, when we were documenting everything in our blog of the same name, a friend suggested that we should do one. At the time it felt too raw, and I thought “I mean is anyone wanna gonna listen to us vomit up a diatribe about what we are going through right now?” Also, honestly, as open as we were in the blog, I wasn’t ready to talk about it, we were too busy fighting it. But when COVID hit and we were in lockdown, we suddenly found ourselves hitting mini anniversaries and having the space to actually talk about where we were and what had happened. Also, we had a mic setup for VO stuff and no real work, so it seemed like a natural progression.

COLLIN: Yeah, unemployment during COVID is a great motivator. But I will say, starting a Podcast is easy… finishing one, not so much. So we’re just happy people seem to be responding. There’s not a lot of good that can come out of a cancer journey, but maybe helping other people figure stuff out is one of them.

Stephanie Czajkowski and Collin Friesen

What was the biggest discovery about your relationship during your cancer journey?

COLLIN: Can I say sex? Or the lack thereof?

STEPHANIE: When don’t you? (Eye Roll)

COLLIN: For me it was accepting the new normal, and trying to figure out what that meant. But I think it was also realizing how strong my wife was, and how, as the husband, you are either along for the ride or you are not, but the bus is leaving either way and there is nothing you can do about it. Also, I now kind of think we can survive anything, although I really don’t want the Universe to test that theory.

STEPHANIE: For me it was re-realizing how we complement each other when dealing with stressful situations. Within the first year of our dating my mother passed away, and that first “big” tragedy gave me a really good idea of who Collin was as a partner. Through the years we’ve tested the hell out of our marriage. To say this was our biggest test is probably an understatement. But we really are a good match.

Did you reach a moment when you thought you’d break up?

STEPHANIE: What time is it? No, seriously, as well as we handled all of it, the stress of cancer definitely amplifies on going issues. Thankfully, ours are pretty minor in the larger scheme of things. But there was more than one time the stress and also the cancer drugs (which gave me wicked mood swings) had me wishing I was single. But then I’d mentally walk a little further down that road and realize it wasn’t so much about Collin but more about needing some quality alone time.

COLLIN: I think there are always moments when you think “Okay, this is more than I want can tolerate.” But those feelings are fleeting, thank God. So never seriously, but as an occasional fantasy? Honestly, yes. But then you think, “what would my dating prospects be as the guy who left his cancer wife?” And then you recommit to your relationship. That’s a joke, folks. That’s mostly a joke.

You both share so much, but was there anything that you felt was off-limits?

STEPHANIE: Not really. I pretty much have been an open book about all of this stuff since it started. At my day job as a fitness instructor, I was literally telling women to “feel my lump” so they knew what it felt like. So I was full “warts and all” from the onset. Collin initially was a little more hesitant, specially when it came to talking about sex, but I managed to convince him.

COLLIN: Yeah, I shun the spotlight, not that I’m that interesting, but I’d rather be behind the scenes. Plus I knew my parents would be listening to this so… But I got over it. And we covered blood bags, constipation, fake nipples and post-cancer sex dildos. I guess if you’re going to do something like this, you need to focus on the good you might do, and not how your eighty-year-old mother is listening to you talk about vaginal moisture.

Originally, you created “ChemoSkinny” as a blog, so at what point did you realize it would make a good podcast?

STEPHANIE: We didn’t know if it would be a good podcast, but it sprung pretty naturally out of the circumstances of COVID, so we decided “Why not?

COLLIN: But thank you for saying it’s “good.” We take compliments where we can get them.

Do each of you have a favorite moment or episode from the podcast?

COLLIN: I drank two glasses of wine before the sex episode, so that one.

STEPHANIE: The sex episode was a good one, and I thought “Damn, I should have liquored him up for more of these!” However, I have a special affinity for Episode Three which talks about how you tell people. I think the intensity of other people’s feelings and opinions about your situation is nothing anyone ever considers, but it’s huge, and it was something I thought about for a long time and was so happy to be able to verbalize it.

COLLIN: Also, it might have been three wines.

Did you learn something new about your partner while working on this project?

COLLIN: You always talk about things as they happen, but when you are forced, or force yourself to ask each other questions after the fact, I think you get a deeper understanding of who the person is you married. So while I can’t point to one thing, I think it’s not bad to do some kind of post-mortem on your cancer adventure. Or, ya know, don’t have cancer at all. That’s even better.

STEPHANIE: I’d have to agree with Collin on this one. Though through doing the podcast, his inner “reporter” came out and I realized how much he’d rather be the interviewer than the interviewee.

What do you hope audiences, especially couples, will take away after listening?

STEPHANIE: We’re fully aware that everyone’s “journey” is going to be different, but as we started meeting and talking to people who’d gone through it, we realized there was a level of understanding that we had, and we just hoped to share.

COLLIN: For couples who don’t have any cancer peers, we can maybe be that voice that makes them feel a little less alone, and with luck give them a heads up about what to expect.

Congrats on a full year of remission. How does that feel?

STEPHANIE: It’s a mixed bag. The further you get away from it, and the more you go back to “normal” activities, the less it’s “center stage”, but it’s always lurking in the wings. I’ve definitely discovered a renewed delight in the simplest of pleasures as well as giving less [email protected] about things that don’t matter, but it’s balanced with the ongoing side effects of the medications I’m still on and a heathy dose of “survivors guilt “. There’s a line DJ Nash wrote for his show “A Million Little Things” that goes: “There is no life without cancer” , and that’s fully the truth. Like all things it’s just one day at a time.

COLLIN: I always say remission is much better than the alternative. But it’s not like that new-lease on life thing that the movies tell you about. Cancer won’t necessarily make you a better person. Still, there is a “now what?” aspect that you have to deal with. So we’re through, now what? Who the hell are we now, and how do we reach back and help the other poor bastards that are coming along?

Finally, what’s next for each of you?

COLLIN: I’ve been working on a podcast, completely un-cancer related. And we’re trying to set up a film based on ChemoSkinny, so we shall see if there’s an appetite for a really honest, cancer-related comedy out there.

STEPHANIE: I just finished working on Season Three of Doom Patrol for HBO MAX, and am heading to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the summer to shoot a recurring role in the series MacGruber for Peacock. It feels like I’m going to summer camp, a fun non-cancer focused summer camp. And I legit couldn’t be more excited.

Listen to "ChemoSkinny" at: ChemoSkinny.com

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About the author

Bea Jones

I write about entertainment and the inspiring people who create it.

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