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PHD Seeks Honorary Degree

I stood behind the podium, looking out at the sea of expectant faces and dodging the black orb of the microphone leaping into my face – threatening to transform every choke, stammer, and garbled blurb into 500 decibels of embarrassment.

As an animated speaker, I hate being confined by that thing. If I turn my head or launch into arm-waving antics, some of my message is lost. How can I funnel my heart and passion through that impersonal metal tube and change people’s lives? (Note to self: Request a portable microphone for future speeches.) I want to touch each person on the shoulder, look into their eyes and give them confidence, joy, and courage. How do you pour purpose and determination into a tube?

In the world of cancer, I have been branded with the “S” word. Through eight years of trench warfare in hospitals and cancer treatments, I never thought of myself as a Survivor – only as a patient. More appropriate would be “Chemo Scam Artist”; I’ve absorbed more toxic waste than the state of Nevada and have more zippers than a bomber jacket. Hospitalized just days before a speaking engagement, I reminded my doctor that this whole survivor caper only works if I can show up!

Through sheer determination and hard-fought battles, I live in two worlds simultaneously; my fairy-tale life as a successful artist, and the hard-core reality of battling stubborn cancer. World #3 developed when a planned book about my oil paintings took a detour, and became a book designed to help cancer patients find their own fairy-tale. That’s when requests to speak at cancer conferences opened world #4.

As a career member of the chemo club with two primary diagnoses, it seems I’ve been hairless half my life; at some point I decided to stop complaining and start bragging. I noticed how other speakers at those conferences had lots of initials after their names, which looked very smart – and very distinguished. I figured 24 visits to the operating table earned me certain privileges: I’m smart, I know stuff, I’ve done some things – I wanted initials. I earned signature initials in the art world, and desired distinction for the cancer world. Serious thinking still requires a yellow pad and pencil, so with these in hand I listed some possibilities: Perpetual Patient – PP; Artist, Author – AA; Artist, Author, Speaker – AAS. You can see how none of these initials look good on paper, or offer impressive credibility. You’d think the medical university would happily issue an honorary degree; they have enough of my dollars, DNA, and dissected body parts to establish another national institute. Scanning the speaker’s directory, I carefully studied each set of initials for suitability, and there it was! PHD (I’ve got that one nailed).

Booked and billed as “Fran Di Giacomo, PHD (Perpetually Hairless Dame)”, to my horror, I sprouted hair! How cruel is that? Isn’t that just like life; you get things all smoothed out, and there’s a bump in the road. Feeling a responsibility to my audiences, I panicked and considered calling my doctor: “This is your fault/I’m so embarrassed/I’ll have to apologize/I have a reputation/I’m a PHD – I’m supposed to be hairless!”

If you earned your PHD the way I did, you know how years in crisis mode develops survival instincts to avoid drowning in the emotional chaos surrounding the world of cancer. The Fran Plan recommends emergency chocolate and slow, deep breathing. Calmly assessing the situation, I realized that if I’ll just be patient, eventually my hair will go away again, and I’ll be back to normal.

Satisfied with the new credentials, my resident tumor provided an opportunity to further enhance my signature status (how lucky can you get?). During a recent 64-day hospitalization, complications required me to receive ten pints of blood. I wondered if any of these blood donors were artists; it doesn’t matter of course, but somehow I’ll never feel alone in my studio. My gratitude to these donors required that I acknowledge their sacrifice; maybe we should incorporate? Hmmm....Fran Di Giacomo, PHD, Inc.

Now that’s what I call a signature! Do you think my audiences will understand?

Fran Di Giacomo, PhD (Perpetually hairless Dame) is an artist and the author of

I’d Rather Do Chemo Than Clean Out the Garage: Choosing Laughter Over Tears.

Visit Fran at

Painting: "Light Through Dried Leaves" by Fran Di Giacomo

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