Discussion Questions for David Fajgenbaum: Hope Wears Sneakers

Listen to the conversation between Kate Bowler & David Fajgenbaum, here.

Download a PDF of discussion questions for this by clicking here.

1. Kate describes Dr. David Fajgenbaum, author of the bestselling memoir Chasing My Cure, as a human bulldozer who uses his agency to turn hope into action. How much agency—or the ability to act on what you know—feels possible for you during this pandemic?

2. David has always been a champion of organizing in the face of challenges. After his mom died, he started a grief network for college students dealing with illness or the death of a loved one. After the COVID-19 outbreak, he brought together a group of people to work on a vaccine. What challenge are you facing that could be helped by coming together with others?

3. When David himself got sick and was on the brink of death, he didn’t regret the things he did do and say but the things he didn’t do and say. Namely, he regretted not fighting for a relationship with his last girlfriend. What are the failures of fight you have regretted? How have they propelled you forward to a different future?

4. Even when things were awful for David, joy crept in. He tells the story of how he got mistaken for his father’s pregnant wife on a New Year’s Eve stroll around the oncology floor. When is the last time laughter has saved you—even if only for a moment—from your troubles?

5. David eventually got a diagnosis for his illness—Castleman disease—but even still there was no known cure or adequate treatment. He felt like he’d been consigned by his doctors to “the plane of possibility” where “anything was possible because no one knew.” In other words, he says, “I was on my own.” What is about the plane of possibility that feels so impossible?

6. David’s only option in the wake of uncertainty was to try and solve his suffering. He didn’t want to have to try. But if he didn’t, nothing would change. What do you think gives someone like David the will to survive? What do you think makes the difference between someone who’s able to push through ambiguity and someone who buckles under the weight of it?

7. “So you’re telling me there’s a chance,” isn’t just one of Kate’s favorite lines from the movie, Dumb and Dumber. It’s also sort of David’s modus operandi. Hope and prayer are important, he says. Even better though if there’s a chance to make what we pray for a reality. What’s one hope and/or prayer you hold today? What’s one way you could co-create the change you want to see?

8. David used his agency to research and repurpose a drug to treat Castleman disease. But when it came time to make the decision whether to take the drug, he wished he could pass off his agency to someone else with more expertise. When have you come to the limits of loving your agency?

9. David’s wedding day pulled him down the road when life got hard. How does hope of some future day give you purpose in the present? What is that future day you’re feeling for?

10. Kate acknowledges that we are living in awful and uncertain times. Still, she says, David’s story reminds us that we don’t have to wait on the cure we need. What hope are you waiting for—and who is waiting on you to act?

Bonus: After listening to this week’s podcast, what part of Kate and David’s conversation resonated with you most? What insight will you carry with you?

Discussion Questions written by author, editor, and facilitator Erin S. Lane.