The Current

Sickboy podcast tackles chronic illness with laughter

Jeremie Saunders has a fatal illness and wants to talk about it. He and his friends mix raw emotion with waves of laughter in the infectious podcast Sickboy.

Sickboy: Promo

5 years ago
Duration 1:23
29-year-old yoga instructor Jeremie Saunders lives openly with Cystic Fibrosis and looks for ways to remove the stigma attached to chronic illness and disease.

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Originally published on October 12, 2017

One of the first things you'll notice about 29-year-old Jeremie Saunders is his cough. It's a regular part of who he is. But what resonates is his laughter.

Saunders was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a baby. It's a genetic illness that affects mostly the lungs and pretty much guarantees a shortened lifespan. 

He lives openly with the disease and needed to talk about it — to remove the stigma attached to chronic illness. So Saunders and his friends, Taylor MacGillivary and Brian Stever, started the podcast Sickboy.

In it they interview people about their experiences with illness, death, disease, whatever ails them: everything from cancer to mental illness to postpartum depression to circumcision. Along the way, they have a laugh about the absurdity of it all.

A new documentary follows Jeremie Saunders living with cystic fibrosis, and his two closest friends, Brian Stever and Taylor MacGillivary. All are hosts of the irreverent Sickboy podcast changing how people view illness like cancer, depression, and epilepsy. (Jeremie Saunders)

"We talk to people living with these illnesses, whatever they may be.  But we're not there to understand what is the illness. That's not what we're interested in. We're there to understand what is the human experience you're going through in living with that illness," Saunders tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"And that's the thing where all that humour exists, right? That's where it naturally flowed out of people where they're telling us about just the absurd experiences that they've had living with diabetes, terminal cancer, bipolar — what have you." 
Jeremie Saunders, a 29-year-old yoga instructor, lives openly with cystic fibrosis as a way to remove the stigma attached to chronic illness and disease. (Jeremie Saunders)

The first guest of the Sickboy podcast was Saunders and in that inaugural podcast, he revealed a poignant moment in his life. 

"If there's anything that you can avoid in your life, make it a barium enema. It was awful. Not only was it the scariest moment of my life with CF, it was also my most embarrassing moment," he says.

"I was probably about 14. And I remember coming in to do this barium enema and I've got the most gorgeous doctor," Saunders explains. 

His amazement wears off when he realizes what's next.

"She pulls out this giant tube with a balloon attached to it and then she has to stick that thing up my butt. And then they have to blow the balloon up so that the thing doesn't fall out of my ass." 

That set the tone for the Sickboy podcast.

Saunders tells Tremonti his parents, Cob and Maxine Saunders, were told by specialists that their son would likely not live to celebrate his 25th birthday, and suggested they not reveal this reality to him.

Related: When My Mom Told Me She Had Cancer, We Didn't Talk About It

He tells Tremonti, he found out that cystic fibrosis would shorten his life through a pamphlet when he was 10-years-old.

"I found out by myself and I buried it and I buried it deep... I'm not a psychologist, obviously, but I feel like taking that information and stuffing it so deep down. It fostered this really deep seeded anger that I carried into my young adult life," Saunders explains," Saunders explains.

Sickboy: Just Want To Talk About Being Sick

5 years ago
Duration 1:26
Jeremie has cystic fibrosis, and "it sucks". But he's determined not to get down about it, and starts a podcast with his friends to talk about being sick.

When he was a teenager, Saunders wrote this in a bio:

"When it comes to getting married and having kids, I don't really know what to think. I don't mind talking about my CF and explaining what it is. But when I sit and think about the things like, what's the point of having kids? And who would want to marry someone who they know isn't going to live ... It makes me feel kinda useless." 

Related: 5 Sickboy podcasts you need to hear

Saunders defied his own expectations and got married. His wife Bryde MacLean says loving someone with a terminal illness is valuable.

"The thing is that I've lost people that I've loved before and so I feel like grief is the price of loving someone," she says.

The documentarySickboy airs Sunday, Oct. 15 on CBC Docs P. O. V.  9 p.m. 

Listen to the full conversation with all three friends in studio near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese.


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