No one prepares you for hearing that your child is sick. Navigating a child’s harrowing medical diagnosis is often one of the hardest things a parent can go through. Today, we talk with a mother who has walked this path, and how she found a way to redefine her narrative in order to diminish her pain and suffering in one of her life’s most challenging moments.

Joining me today is board-certified radiologist and Certified Life Coach Dr. Maggie Kang. Dr. Kang was faced with the unthinkable when her 9-year old healthy daughter was suddenly diagnosed with a rare disease, and life as she knew it took an unexpected turn. Through the pain and uncertainty, she navigated the challenging terrain of her daughter’s illness, transforming the traumatic experience into a catalyst for personal growth and healing. 

Don’t miss this touching and insightful interview to hear Dr. Kang open up about where she was able to find her strength and resilience, her realization of the impact her own mental health had on her daughter, and the transformative shift when she choose to focus on the positives.

Dr. Maggie (00:00):

I could focus on the fact that she was sick and all these things are happening, or I could focus on the fact that we could all sit down and eat dinner together and laugh for the first time in a very long time was something that I relished that moment. And when I realized that I liked that and I liked how I felt in that moment, that I could suddenly see other opportunities to feel the same way and collectively that became my new narrative.

Dr. Sarah (00:33):

Why is it that some people struggle when life throws difficult situations their way while others seem to be resilient even in the face of life’s greatest challenges? My guest today, Dr. Maggie Kang, learned the hard way that while you can’t choose whether or not you experience pain, you do have the power to choose how much you suffer because of it. Dr. Kang is a board certified radiologist and mom of two kids who was faced with the unthinkable when her 9-year-old healthy daughter was suddenly diagnosed with a rare disease and life as she knew it took an unexpected turn through the pain and uncertainty. She navigated the challenging terrain of her daughter’s illness, transforming the traumatic experience into a catalyst for personal growth and healing. Inspired by her own struggles, Dr. Kang shifted her focus from radiology to mental wellbeing, and she’s now a certified life coach who dedicates her time to supporting parents of kids in the rare and chronic disease communities in her private coaching practice. In today’s episode, Dr. Kang shares her deeply personal story of navigating through this traumatic time for her family and the personal breakthrough that not only impacted her, but became a catalyst for her daughter’s emotional healing process as well.


Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology, and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.


Hello. Thank you so much for being here. How are you doing today?

Dr. Maggie (02:29):

I’m good. How are you doing?

Dr. Sarah (02:30):

I’m doing well. I’m really excited about this talk. I think it’s going to be very helpful for a lot of people because it’s, well, let’s just jump into it. So maybe you could start just by telling us a little bit about your work and then how it overlapped with sort of a life event that led you in a very probably quite unexpected direction.

Dr. Maggie (02:52):

Yes, yes, that’s a good way to frame it. So I am a mom of two and I’ve been trained as a physician. So I was practicing as a radiologist for a number of years and then my daughter then age nine, was diagnosed with a rare disease, it’s called neuromyelitis optica spectrum disease. It’s a rare neurologic autoimmune disease affecting primarily the central nervous system. So for her it was sort of the deep brain mainly, but for many it can impact the optic nerves causing blindness and spinal cord causing paralysis. She was diagnosed with that and was in the ICU for five weeks, and that was really a traumatic time for our whole family. Just to give you an overview, in order to manage a lot of the stress and help us navigate our new lives, I actually hired a life coach from Facebook. So interestingly, and that was at the time of the pandemic, and really it was very difficult to find a lot of mental support and certainly no support groups meaning at the time.


So I certified then discovering all the benefits of the coaching tools that I learned, and it really transformed our lives and put us on a path I think, toward healing. So really it was a number of years before my daughter was able to go to school full time, and there was a point at which we weren’t even sure number one, that she was going to survive or how or to what extent she would recover and if she’d ever be able to go back to full-time school. So we were in a scary place for a couple of years there. So that is all to say that we’re actually better and to when I certified to become a life coach, I think that we started to become involved in advocacy and started working with our foundation, but that’s kind of where we are right now.

Dr. Sarah (04:41):

That’s amazing. I mean, it’s this real parallel process of living this family crisis, this traumatic experience. Obviously as a mother watching your child go through this must to feel so helpless and then to figure out a path towards accessing support that helps you access your own internal resources. I just feel like so many people ask that question of why is it that some people, when really awful things happen to them, have a greater chance at coming out the other end with some capacity for still being able to get through it, and some people really struggle. What is the key to resilience? What is the key to surviving in the face of a really adverse life events? That’s probably a more complex question that we’ll ever be able to answer in the life of this entire podcast, but I’m so curious what that was like for you and what you learned in the process of doing your own coaching and then realizing, oh, I want to continue this for other people.

Dr. Maggie (05:56):

Right. That’s such an interesting question and I kind of felt like when we went through this first, when your kid is healthy and suddenly gets diagnosed with a rare, pretty terrible disease, it is hard to know how to adjust to that life. So I know that if anybody’s sort of going through any kind of crisis with the diagnosis, to think that you’re going to transition and survive and make your life all good at that time is probably not going to happen. And for me, it took probably a year of just complete misery thinking our lives were terrible and over and I just didn’t know what to do for me to try and figure a way out of it. I think that when you get to that point, for me it was like, I just don’t want to be like this anymore.


And I saw that there was nothing good coming from this. As stressed as I was, I was impacting my daughter and this was the key that got me to move forward. It’s like for a lot of people, it’s kind of sad that if we have the opportunity to help ourselves, we’re less likely to do it, I think is mom than if you have an opportunity to help your kid. That changes everything I have found with a lot of the conversations I’ve been having with other people. And when I noticed that she was just not getting better and I was somehow making it worse for her, and she told me that I was kind of stressing her out, and this was a time when we were all kind of at home and the world was shutting down and it was stressful everywhere it seemed, and I could see how this was negatively impacting not only our relationship but her health as well as mine.


So I think it came to that point where I had to make an active choice and I decided that life doesn’t have to be this way and it’s not going to be, and I know that that is kind of a huge step because it doesn’t seem like yet how it’s going to happen, but I just said, no, we are not living our lives this, this is not what it’s supposed to look like or it’s just not going to be this way. I just decided. And so I went out on a mission, but I do think that this is in part my personality, so I don’t want to just sort of make a general statement about how everyone should go about this, but once I get on a mission, I decide that I want something, I get on the internet, I start looking, I start talking to people. I try to get involved in groups where people are struggling with a similar type of thing.


And then I started to notice the things that were helpful for her. Journaling was helpful, and this is obviously when she regained the use of her right arm. And so we started to do that and we started to draw and create and talk about, unpack a lot of that trauma from the hospital. And I was thinking, wow, this is actually helpful. Let’s do more of that. And then when I finally got around to talking to a coach that I really connected with and I hired her, she was basically teaching me the same type of things that we all have a choice about our situation and that our isn’t necessarily even good or bad. And this I found very triggering. I thought, no, if her kid was diagnosed with a rare disease, that’s a terrible thing. That is literally a terrible thing. And Vladimir Putin is a bad man.


That’s a fact. These are facts. And she said, no, that they are not. And we got to whole thing of it. It was actually kind of funny when she helped me to realize that situations happen and how we feel about them or our thought about them is really the thing that defines our experience. So when I decided that not only was Nell’s disease horrible, but that I was somehow at fault in not diagnosing her or bringing her to the ER earlier, this is what defined my personal experience. It really put me in a state of mind of guilt and stress and just inability to kind of see anything good in my life. Even though at that point my daughter, Nell was actually on treatment that was making her better. I mean, she started to regain a lot of her function. And so for me to not be there and fully appreciate that, I think was loss in my view.


So when I started to get on board with that and really be a part of her healing process, that felt better. And the thinking behind that that I actually had to choose was that I’m not going to cling to this idea that it was my fault, and this is so terrible. In fact, it’s just neutral. She has this, and here we are moving forward as a family together and what are the things that I want to create with the situation? And what I decided was that I wanted to actually have fun with her while she was at home and my son. And now that we’re in lockdown, let’s just try to be together and enjoy a time that we didn’t actually have before because both my kids were pretty athletic and doing a lot of things. There were times, there were actually many nights prior to this that we didn’t even have dinner together. So the fact that we were having dinner together was something that I thought was amazing. And I really relished in the idea of cooking meals together, which we never did before. So when I can get into the head space of just kind of appreciating what is going on right now, I think my stress, my guilt and joy and all of that was greatly improved.

Dr. Sarah (11:18):

That’s so beautiful and interesting, right? Because when I hear you talk about this, I’m hearing certain things, certain themes, there’s the subjective experience, the meaning we make of the things that are objectively happening to us. And we can objectively say that a child being diagnosed with a horrific, rare, scary disease that strips them of the life that they previously knew is objectively horrifying. It’s bad. It’s terrible. And I totally hear you in saying like, oh my God, I would feel so triggered as a parent, so invalidated as a parent to be told, oh, no, no, no. It’s the meaning. You assign it, but you are correct and at the same time, and you have to give yourself permission to have that grief and have that pain and have that helplessness. I don’t think anybody can really get to the place where they can do that perspective shifting work without first allowing for the pain to exist.

Dr. Maggie (12:30):

A hundred percent.

Dr. Sarah (12:31):

But then when you are ready and able to, if we, I so agree with you, this idea that our ability to zoom out and look at the meaning we assign something and to give ourselves permission to give, attend to other things that are also true. It doesn’t diminish the truth of the pain. It simply allows you to have a lens of the whole experience and you can pick where your eyes focus in that moment.

Dr. Maggie (13:03):

Yes, it is so true. And I like that you use the word zoom out or you said something to that effect. I use that term a lot because I think that we can kind of get very focused on the one thing that’s happening in our lives, and to be able to pause and step back is actually so much it could be so helpful in getting a perspective. Now, I do want to go back and underscore a point that you made too. I fully agree that when you’re in that state of trauma, that you are in trauma. No one is going to talk to you about trying to shift your thought at that point. And so I think that to be fair, by the time that I had reached out to the coach that I was working with, it was I think a year and a half after the traumatic event. I was still sort of struggling in all of my woes. And I think she probably brought that idea to me at a time in my life that I needed to hear it, even though it wasn’t easy, but yet it somehow freed me from I guess the shackles of my own mind, if you will. And it helped me to move forward.

Dr. Sarah (14:08):

And I think that’s helpful too. That context that you just shared and it was a year and a half for you could be shorter for someone or longer for someone. It’s not really about the amount of time. It’s about the permission to have the space to be in grief and to not be ready to shift out of that. And also for most people, there becomes a point somewhere along the trajectory when is probably very to each person, quite unique, but there can be a point where you hit this tipping point where you’re like, I am actually, and you talk a lot about this, of the difference between pain and suffering. We are in pain and suffering is another layer that’s not quite the same thing. I think the way I think about it is suffering is the non-acceptance of pain. It’s a layer we add to the experience, but they’re not the same thing. And when we can really sort of say, I don’t need to suffer. So could you share more on your thoughts on this? You have some really eloquent ways of articulating that.

Dr. Maggie (15:22):

Sure, thank you. Yes. And I think you’re probably referring to my TEDx talk when I was really, that was the purpose of my talk, and that was the message of why I wanted to even get up on that stage, which was hugely scary. So the idea is exactly what you said. I think pain is inevitable, and that’s the quote I think I use on the TEDx stage, and that when it happens in our lives, like loss or whatever it is, in my case, it was my child’s diagnosis that it is something that I can either accept or resist. And when I resisted it, I created suffering. The pain piece, which I eventually accepted was when I think I described it in my talk is I just had to sit down and move through it. There was no way to get around it or to skip it or to fight it.


I think I have a tendency to fight things. As soon as the diagnosis was said, I was like, no, you’re wrong. That can’t be, because in my world of radiology, that was a disease actually of middle-aged women, and that’s part of the way we learned it. And I was like, no, you have to be mistaken. That was never in the pediatric book. You’re wrong. And so that’s a terrible disease. Don’t give that to her. Find something else. That was my response. And then when I finally realized that, that in fact was I was looking for all the ways that I had made a mistake, I should have diagnosed sooner, would that have changed the course of her symptoms now and all of that. And this is where I lived in my head, it was not that I was thinking about the emotion of the loss of the person that she once was, and looking at my frill little girl who at that point had lost 20 pounds as a 9-year-old, you look very different at 20 pounds less.


And she looked like she was struggling to breathe. It was just so horrible. I could not mentally or emotionally be in that place of experiencing the pain. So of course, what I did was I just denied it and fought it the whole way. But of course, that’s neither good for me nor good for my daughter because I wasn’t even there, even though she wasn’t communicating with me, I wasn’t calm to hold her hand and just be there and feel the sorrow of what was going on. So for me, I don’t think that happened until, like I said, a year later. And that is, when I think about that, it’s somewhat shocking, but experiencing it was so painful, I could not accept that she was no longer who she once was. And this is the grief part I think that you kind of touched on earlier. And it is true when there’s a diagnosis like this or any kind of major change that there is this process of letting go of what was and being open to what is coming and what is new. But instead, I was sort of stuck right here. I can’t let go. I can’t move forward. And I was just stuck. And this is why life became very hard quickly.

Dr. Sarah (18:24):

And I think with traumatic experiences or any sort of really painful, scary, heartbreaking experience, we need to protect ourselves from experiencing that pain. It’s too great. We fear on some unconscious level or conscious level that we will be annihilated by this pain. And so to sit in it is just too unbearable, too unfathomable. And so we do create these defense. It makes sense that we have these systems in place unconsciously to protect ourselves from what we believe will destroy us.


And I think it’s sometimes you have to have some space from the acuity of the moment of the traumatic thing to be able to actually reflect on, oh, is this effort that this defense that’s protecting me from feeling this pain? Is it actually having ripples that don’t serve me or don’t serve my family or don’t serve my bigger goal of being able to be there for my daughter in the way she needs me to be there for her, or to be able to cope with this in a way that allows me to be present? And so then you can go and hopefully, and it sounds like you were able to let that defense stop having to protect you from the pain and to be in relationship now with the pain.

Dr. Maggie (20:04):

Right? Yeah, no, I think you’re right about that. I think in the state of acute trauma, there are defenses that probably should be in place because some things are really too much to sort of take in all at once, but it’s hard to know, I guess that point at which the defensive piece is helping you versus stopping you from moving forward. And I think for me, I think I was probably just stuck in that place for too long and I think I just needed to decide and that it can actually be better. And I didn’t even know that I had that choice really until later.

Dr. Sarah (20:45):

And for you, what did that look like? What was that internal process of deciding, right? We’ve talked about how we got to the place where you became aware enough to say, oh, I have a choice and I am going to make a decision. But then once you’ve decided that it was going to be you were going to take a different perspective, then what happened for you?

Dr. Maggie (21:07):

Okay. Well, I have to tell you the morning that I think I decided that day my husband saw me, he said, I looked horrible. I hadn’t slept in so long. I think I had put on a ton of weight. It was really during that whole pandemic time where life just seemed like it was quite horrible. And when he told me that, and I saw the way he was looking at me, not in discuss, but more of concern, I was thinking, oh, what’s going on? Things have really, I feel kind of lost my way. So that was another sign that I took that things had to change. And I guess when I decided, I went on my mission to get information and then hired the coach, that was I think a big turning point. But that one breakthrough conversation I had with her, when I came downstairs to the kitchen, I told my husband what I had realized and I was like, mind blown.


And so I don’t know if I can pinpoint any other moments or really describe in detail the actual transition time, but those were moments that I recall as being big sort of moments of shift. And I guess it was really over time when my kids started to see changes in me, what I learned was that I impact my kids so much that I didn’t know that I was such a huge part of her healing process physically and mentally and emotionally. I didn’t know. I just thought, oh, we just have to get the right meds in you. You have to get sleep, and I have to cook the right foods for you. That’s the way I was thinking. But really what I noticed was that I had to be kind of healed myself and hold myself or else I was somewhat holding her back. Honestly, this is what I’ve noticed in retrospect.


And the moment at which she told me that she felt better and lighter because I looked happier, she actually said those words to me. It was another one of those moments of, whoa, what have I been like for you since the diagnosis? I wonder mean, it made me think. And so this is what I try to bring to a lot of parents that I talk to because I do think that as moms and dads probably, we’re moms on that when we look at kids and we see that they’re struggling, there’s a problem. We want to fix it, and we focus on them and what we think the problem is and what we understand the solution to be. But a lot of times it’s really how we are bringing ourselves to that relationship at that time. We don’t have fix them. If they have a conflict with a friend at school, we don’t need to fix it. We can just say, yeah, I remember that those days I remember high school.

Dr. Sarah (23:58):

To be with instead of to fix.

Dr. Maggie (24:01):

Yeah. And in some ways, when I do it that way, both as a mom when she’s sick and when she has these minor or major issues that she comes home with, it’s like when I’m just present, I transfer a belief to her that I know it’s actually going to be okay, and that actually she’s going to be okay, and maybe she can even just fix it on her own. I’m not her fixer, but I have this belief that we and you are okay, and that I have found to be way more powerful than anything else. I’m not calling her school. I’m not calling that other mom. She’s like, okay. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (24:45):

And I think that it’s such a really interesting, it’s a great example. Obviously there’s this macro like capital T trauma, the big medical event that, yeah, you can’t fix that, but that’s almost easier to see right.


In the moment it wasn’t. But I think parents will say, yeah, of course I get that. And then the beautiful way of kind of paralleling that to even these small lowercase t traumas, these little very real, but small scale micro moments of pain or hurt or social challenge or the teacher isn’t listening to me when I say Don’t get this or whatever, that we can still, I think those smaller moments, we tend to want to fix more because we’re like, oh, it’s just a quick fix. I can fix this. I see the solution. And so what you said was really, I like that a lot. That idea of there’s a solution that we think we understand the problem to be solved by this is how I think the problem is. But that was a very important subjective appraisal of the problem rather than, we actually don’t know. We don’t know what they need. We don’t know what the solution is, we’re not living it. But to be able to shift out of that, I’m supposed to fix it to I’m supposed to be with you while you figure this out or just experience this struggle, that’s a different job. And I think it’s harder initially to kind of wrap your head around, but you get there, it’s much easier than trying to solve the problem.

Dr. Maggie (26:46):

Yeah, you can have faith in your kid, and I know as you pointed out too, these are worlds apart, different scenarios like traumatic diagnosis versus these issues that might come up at school, social issues, which I mean in certain circumstances it can be quite traumatic depending on what it’s, but I guess I really do think that in some ways the same approach is important to keep in mind this idea of not needing to fix everything or sort of, let me back that up with the medical part. I know that I’m a physician and a lot of times I tried to involve myself too much in that care, and I probably should have just had faith in her doctors who I at that point decided were good doctors and that she was on a good regimen, and this is where I could have just stepped back and just been with her as a mom. But I think I played that role physician mom a lot in the process, and it really did sort of add to my stress, and I think it impacted our relationship because every time we would go to the doctor, I think it would bring up a lot of stress for both of us, and it ended up being a situation that wasn’t helpful.

Dr. Sarah (28:05):

Yeah, it’s really interesting if you think about it, right? You’re saying you ultimately chose that care team, you trusted that care team. You already assigned that job to somebody, and so she had a doctor, but she needed a mom. She didn’t have anybody else who’s going to play that role. It’s so hard in it. Even mothers who are not doctors sometimes go to that role of I’m going to be the advocate, and of course we need to be advocates for our kids, but in the moment in the doctor’s office when they’re in this vulnerable moment, what do they need from us? And to your point earlier, yes, they need us to be the mother, but they also need us to be a healthy present mother who, and we can’t be that all the time and we are going to have our own stuff, but us recognizing that, prioritizing our own healing, our own capacity to process the trauma that we’re experiencing, and find a way to be able to be regulated and present and attuned to our kid because we’re not in denial or in fight or flight or focused on something very narrow because that’s what we’re clinging to get through. And it’s not always, we say this, it’s easy to do that. It’s not at all.

Dr. Maggie (29:51):

No, I think talking about it with my husband, that’s actually something I do quite often. And with the kids I’ve taught my whole family, all of the coaching tools that I’ve learned. So they’ll check me and I’ll say stuff like, oh my gosh, I hate doing dishes. This is terrible. And then they’ll be like, mom, that’s just a thought. And I’m like, right, right. Okay. She’s so funny. That’s my daughter. That’s interesting. Going back to this idea of pain versus suffering, I noticed that that actually comes up for me in so many ways in different levels of trauma as we were talking about. And so I remember when I had to go pick her up from school, some days I would send her on mornings when she wasn’t feeling her best, but she wanted to go to school and I wasn’t sure if she should go back. And then she called me from school not feeling well, and then the whole time I’m going to pick her up, I’m thinking, why did I let her go? That was such a terrible decision. Was it because I just wanted to date to myself or I wanted her to go back to school? This is all of what I’m thinking, and that is the difference between the suffering and the pain.


I think in a scenario like that, the pain may be that I am sad that she is just not feeling well. That could be the pain, and I’m just going to go and pick her up, and that’ll be that the suffering was all my other thoughts that I layered onto that I made the decision to send her to school, and that was terrible. She’s not ready to go to school. Why am I doing that? Why am I such a terrible mom? And I should have rethought that and maybe she didn’t get enough sleep or I should have made her a better breakfast or that type of thinking, which I think is actually very common. And so I just wanted to point that out that we can always choose the pain versus suffering at any moment in our day when it comes up if we’re aware and we can zoom out to see what’s happening. Because the truth is she’s okay. She came home from school, it’s not a problem. Nothing major has happened.

Dr. Sarah (31:51):

And that zooming out, one cannot zoom out if they are not first aware that they are having a cascade of thoughts that are making them very, very, very zoomed in.

Dr. Maggie (32:08):

Yeah, it’s so true. I mean, I find another sort of emotionally fraught experience I think is the experience of teens right now as seniors in high school where, so my son is going through that right now, and the whole college stress is so intense, and when they all got their early decision application, some kids got in and some didn’t, and just all of the mental drama about not getting in about not feeling like you’re good enough. And so much of that comes into question, I feel like for teens. And so that is also a really great opportunity to just pause and zoom out saying, wow, this is just one tiny piece of my overall life. I’m not defined by this one letter, or I guess it’s emails now except versus rejection versus wait list. None of that actually is going to mean that much in the grand scheme of things. However, I can assign a lot more thoughts to it to make it seem like it’s a hellacious experience or not.

Dr. Sarah (33:12):

And it’s funny because thinking too, we as the parents hope that we are correct in this assessment, that this is a small blip in the grand scheme of things, and also if we want to help our child be able to accept the pain and zoom out enough to kind of put it into context so they can shift their perspective, there’s a critical thing that has to happen first, which is to validate the pain, to validate the fear, to validate the narrow zoomed in perspective and the pain that results from that, or even the suffering that result. This is real. The fear that this will never feel better is real. The pain of this rejection is real. And if we don’t do that before we say, let’s zoom out, let’s think about all of the things that could help you to shift this perspective, it won’t work. Nobody can shift their perspective unless they feel joined with. There’s something, there’s a lot of trust that has to exist or safety and security that has to exist for someone to be able to zoom out when they’re in pain.

Dr. Maggie (34:45):

And I think, again, we talked about this earlier, it’s not even right away the zoom out. It’s like the idea that first you have to accept and feel the pain. So it’s kind of like the moment that you find out you don’t get in or whatever it is that has happened, you do want to sit with it and just experience that disappointment, that loss of whatever you thought you were going to have, and really just kind of process that. And that’s the acceptance piece, the resistance, and then actually once, if people do that, actually the resistance and the trauma that potentially could happen after is not usually so great. I think the part that is the worst is you don’t allow yourself to process that pain and you go straight into, I’m unworthy, or Why was I rejected? Why did that kid get in? Not me. It’s because of X, Y and Z and whatever. I think that’s the part that’s really, yeah, it is that layer and layer upon layer of suffering because that acceptance of pain piece maybe was sort of bypassed. And I agree with you a hundred percent that being with that sort of container of emotion right away if you can, would be really good to process. I personally did not do it that way, so I can attest to the fact that it was quite miserable for me for a couple of years.

Dr. Sarah (36:14):

And I think you earned the right for it to be miserable. Right? It’s not fair to say to yourself, I mean, dang, you are going through something big. Your daughter is going through something big. You are allowed to not get this right away.

Dr. Maggie (36:35):

But my personality being what it is, I threw out a lot. So yeah, it’s all kind of a learning and growth experience, I guess, and has brought me here to today, so I guess it’s all good.

Dr. Sarah (36:49):

Yeah, I mean, you definitely certainly found a way to turn this really awful experience into something with great purpose and incredibly helpful to others too. It sounds like your daughter has also, she wrote a book about this.

Dr. Maggie (37:06):

Yes. It’s called My Hospital Story. Yeah, she did, and she basically shared her whole experience within the hospital because she wanted to read a book that was her book. So it’s kind of like whoever, somebody said that if you want to read the book, that it doesn’t exist that you should write it. So that’s exactly what she did. She was actually really lonely in the hospital and didn’t know how to talk to her friends about what was going on. And so she kind of put it all and channeled all of her emotions into this book, which was really a journal, a series of journal entries put together into a book. That’s how it’s written.

Dr. Sarah (37:51):

That’s amazing. I want to read that book. Thank, I feel like there’s a lot of kids who would benefit from hearing the story because kind of like you were saying, you don’t, you’re not hearing your story in a book, then that means that you’re not being able to feel like someone else has had this experience before. It can be very lonely. I am always, it’s so funny because in the sort of network of psychologists or mental health professionals, and we’re on some email lists and we’re always asking, who has a book on this? I need a book about a sibling whose little kid is in the nicu. There’s little sisters in the NICU.


We’re always sharing emails about good kids books that tell the story of something that maybe one of our patients is going through because kids need that. Grownups need it too. But kids really need to be able to read a book about what they’re experiencing so they can make sense of it, and just to know that they’re not the only one who’s had that experience. It’s a huge part of the healing process. I mean, even in trauma therapy, we often write a trauma narrative. We want to help make sense of the thing that has happened to us, whatever it is, because the thing that determines or predicts whether or not something is traumatizing to us is not what happens, but it’s our capacity to make sense of what happens. And if we are able to make sense of what happens to us in a really authentically coherent, compassionate, reflective way, we tend not to experience the symptoms of trauma as a result of it. We may have pain and grief and have to process that, but trauma is a very specific thing. It’s trauma is not what happens to us. It’s whether or not it impacts our ability to function afterwards in a way that we used to.


And so the capacity to tell the story, and that’s often very much aided by reading a story or sharing a shared story with another person that’s a big part of that healing process. You were saying journaling for your daughter was super healing. That kind of makes sense.

Dr. Maggie (40:41):

Yes. Yes. I think when she went back to school, so at the time she was in fourth grade when she was diagnosed, and so when she came out, I think she started to go back to school part-time for fifth grade, and her fifth grade writing teacher, Ms. Norris, was the one that gave her a journal and said, why don’t you start sitting down at night and processing some of your emotions? And so I think she noticed that my daughter was kind of struggling coming back to school, and it was so hard in so many ways physically and mentally and emotionally at that age where the kids are developing all different rates and friend groups are shifting. And she had at that point, missed so much school. She just felt very lost and disconnected. I think through the journaling, she helped herself come back when we were finally able to put it in and publish it. That was really kind of a big moment for her. And actually, interestingly, that led to, she was actually on the CBS evening news, and then our foundation found out about her through that book it’s called. So we both became ambassadors to the Meyer Foundation, and then our advocacy work really started to take off from there. So it’s like one thing can lead to the next and open doors. It’s pretty crazy how it all works,

Dr. Sarah (42:02):

But to your original point that you were making about what happens when you make that choice and have the support to shift the perspective and change the narrative, change the meaning that you are giving the thing that has happened to you, then all these other things start to be possible. Because if the story I tell myself is this is the worst thing that could ever happen in our lives are over, and all the things that we have lost have truly, genuinely accurately lost are the things that I focus my attention on. What does that displace? What does that attention on those specific things that are true displace? And it sounds like it would have displaced all of this creative energy and this sharing and this writing and this advocacy work. There’s room, we only have so much energy and attention. We have to decide where we put it.

Dr. Maggie (43:13):

Yes. Yeah. I’m so glad you said that. Actually, that was another thing I think I managed to work in my TEDx talk is the idea of the micro moments. And I think this was a really big kind of eyeopening realization for me is that I could actually choose. There were so many things happening in our lives at that time. My daughter was not in school. This terrible virus is taking over our world, and my job was sort of touch and go at that time because I wasn’t able to fully be present as a radiologist and take care of her. And I didn’t know there was just so many questions and challenges. However, I could focus on the fact that she was sick and all these things are happening, or I could focus on the fact that, you know what? We’re actually together as a family, and this is the first day ne could actually eat meatballs because her swallowing mechanism improved with time, and she was able to eat whole foods again, and this was a very big moment.


And so the fact that we could all sit down and eat dinner together and laugh for the first time in a very long time was something that I relished that moment. And when I realized that I liked that and I liked how I felt in that moment, that I could suddenly see other opportunities to feel the same way, and collectively that became my new narrative. Just I guess aside, when you buy a certain car, all of a sudden you notice that everyone else has the same car, right? Yeah. It’s that type of thing. When you open your mind up to that possibility, you can find the things that you want in your narrative. And so I think that that’s how I slowly start to weave together the life that I think we’ve created today

Dr. Sarah (44:57):

That’s so beautiful and so hopeful, and I hope that if anyone is listening, who’s going through something like you went through, can take that and not put any pressure on themselves to be able to do it right this moment, but to just know that is something that could be in your future, that is a direction you can go.

Dr. Maggie (45:17):

Yes. Move toward that idea.

Dr. Sarah (45:20):


Dr. Maggie (45:21):

Even if it’s just a vague feeling that you would like to create in your life. Yeah, just move forward slowly. It took me years five maybe.

Dr. Sarah (45:30):

Yeah, and it’s probably a lifelong process. I think if people want to know more about your work, your coaching work, your daughter’s book, the advocacy stuff, how can they connect with you?

Dr. Maggie (45:47):

Sure. So my daughter’s book is called My Hospital Story. Her name is Choi, and that’s on Amazon, or you can also find it on my website, which is at maggiekangmd.com.

Dr. Sarah (46:02):

Amazing. We’ll put all that in the show notes too, so people can just go there for those links. The beauty of technology these days.

Dr. Maggie (46:12):

Oh, I know.

Dr. Sarah (46:14):

Oh, thank you so much for sharing your story. Oh, I also, I’ll add people should definitely watch your TEDx talk because it’s very good. 

Dr. Maggie (46:21):

Love it. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. It’s truth about pain and suffering will change your life.

Dr. Sarah (46:26):

Yeah. Well, I appreciate this. I think this was very, we’re recording this at the end of the day on a Friday, and I’m like, oh, I’m going into this weekend and I’m going to really focus on what’s the feeling I want to feel, what’s the thing I want to put my attention on? Because the reality is this is a good skill for all manner of life. It’s great for when you’re dealing with really, really awful things. It’s also great for a random weekend with your kids.

Dr. Maggie (46:54):

It’s so true, and it’s always a work in progress, like you suggested before. I do still have to remind myself, but I get to it sooner. It’s kind of like when you keep practicing something and you get off track, you can come back a little quicker and easier, but it is always a practice.

Dr. Sarah (47:11):

It is. It is. Well, thank you. Have a wonderful weekend.

Dr. Maggie (47:16):

Thank you.

Dr. Sarah (47:23):Thanks so much for listening. If you are interested in learning more about Attachment Science, check my free guide, The Four Pillars of Fostering Secure Attachment. In this guide, I teach you how to use the principles of attachment science to help you parent with attunement and trust by focusing on four simple things. You can work towards helping your child form a secure attachment bond, which is a predictor of so many positive aspects of mental health, including self-esteem, independence, healthier relationships with others throughout their lifespan, better academic and workplace achievement, and lower reported instances of anxiety and depression, not a small list. So to download this free guide and learn the four pillars of fostering secure attachment, go to drsarahbren.com/secure. That’s drsarahbren.com/secure. And until next time, don’t be a stranger.

188. Finding positives in spite of our pain: A mother’s journey navigating her child’s illness with Dr. Maggie Kang