Dr. Ken Show Gets Serious About Cancer

Written By:Stacy Simon
Ken Jeong in an episode from his tv show "Dr. Ken"

The comedy show Dr. Ken tackles a serious topic Friday, February 24 when the title character’s wife Allison finds a lump on her breast and undergoes a biopsy to check for cancer. ABC’s Dr. Ken is a sitcom about a doctor, played by real-life doctor turned actor Ken Jeong, and his TV family. The episode about Allison’s breast cancer scare is based on the true story of Jeong’s wife, Tran, who was diagnosed with breast cancer 8 years ago.

Jeong talked to the American Cancer Society about his family’s experience with breast cancer, his relationship with his wife, and the importance of breast cancer screening.

Q: Why is it important to you to focus on breast cancer detection in an episode of your show?

A: This is an intensely personal story about my wife’s fight against breast cancer that also intertwines with a show that’s based on my life and my own personal story. I have been wanting to do this episode for a long time, and it was really great to do as we began the second season of Dr. Ken because I had a good grasp of what the characters were. I co-wrote this episode with two of our most talented writers as well as our executive producer and my wife Tran. We were really focused on how to make the story very personal, but also make it adapt to the world of Dr. Ken and the fictional characters who inhabit that space. But we also wanted to keep it realistic for my own personal journey. We tried to balance combining fact with fiction, while keeping it all realistic, and also medically as accurate as possible.

Q: Is it risky to tackle a serious topic like cancer on a comedy show?

A: Oh absolutely.  It’s very risky to do - not just with breast cancer, but also any serious disease. We are not trying to make cancer funny, but just having a sense of humor and trying to find lightness in a very, very dark situation. It was a major challenge to handle it with a sense of humor, with sensitivity, with grace, and with class. This episode easily is my favorite episode we’ve ever done. We have 120 people working on the show from crew members, to cast members, to cameramen, to writers, to grips to assistant directors. And it was really a labor of love of all 120 people that went into making this. I have to give special credit to Suzy Nakumura who plays my TV wife, Allison. In this episode she finds a breast lump. The doctor is suspicious that it’s malignant. It’s a little bit different from my wife’s journey and that was a big challenge, too. We didn’t want to make it identical, didn’t want to make it a documentary, but we wanted to make it a realistic story that in and of itself had its own integrity.

Q: What message are you hoping to send with this episode of Dr. Ken?

A: To get screened for cancer. Early detection is important. In this episode of Dr. Ken, Allison finds a lump through a self-exam. To me, mammograms, talking to your doctor about your risk level, about your family history of breast cancer, about the environmental risks of breast cancer, all these things are important. Ask your doctor and get screened. I believe personally and professionally as a former physician in the importance of breast cancer screening.

Q: How is your wife, Tran, doing now?

A: I’m happy to say my wife is 8 years cancer free and she is great. She is so grateful for the care she’s received from her physicians and love from not only friends and family, but also from the public support she’s received. When she was first diagnosed with breast cancer I asked, “Are you comfortable disclosing to people? Do you want to keep it secret? Everyone has their own way of dealing with this. There is no right answer.” She said, “I want the support of people. I want people to know. I want their love and support because I’ll need it.” I truly admired her for her balanced look on this and how she persevered and how she was so mentally strong throughout all of this. To this day she’s my hero. She was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer and she had to get very aggressive types of chemotherapy with serious side effects. That was the intense part, and for her to handle it the way she did, she amazed me. At the time she was diagnosed, it was also time for her to recertify her medical license. She had to take an 8-hour test. She went ahead and took it before her chemotherapy because she knew she wouldn’t be able to take it 6 months later when the test was offered again. She was able to channel her energies in a really constructive way every time she was faced with a physical challenge. To this day I’ve just never seen anyone in my lifetime just step up to this kind of pressure with such grace and class; it was amazing.

Q: How has this experience changed your relationship with your wife?

A: We have a bond that’s just so strong it’s not even funny. We were always happy and I married her because she made me laugh and she has a sense of humor. I married her because of the funny. We had a mutual love of comedy. We love the same things. We were already good friends as spouses and that helped. We were there for each other as friends as well as husband and wife. Two friends, especially if they’re married, going through such an ordeal and to be fortunate to come out OK right now – it just makes us closer than we already were. I feel like we are one person. Even on Dr. Ken I consult her all the time. She’s my creative partner, as well as my life partner. Even for this episode on Dr. Ken, she was there for every part of the writing of it. We lifted lines of dialog that came straight from me and Tran and that rang true for us. Our bond is so strong.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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