Thinking back to his own cancer treatment, Jacob Reibel ’10 wishes he had done more to record his thoughts and ideas.

Back then, he was applying to medical school after two years spent teaching English in France and two more doing research at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Today, he remembers the fear that came with a diagnosis of testicular cancer—but he also looks back on that time as one of renewed clarity and focus.

Now fully recovered and in medical school at the University of Vermont (where he is in the midst of third-year rotations), Reibel is helping other people record stories of their own illnesses. 

His project, Vermont Voices, is based on the NPR StoryCorps model, in which people make audio recordings of conversations that range from whimsical to highly personal. Reibel has found his subjects at the local Hope Lodge, a nonprofit that offers patients a free place to stay while traveling for medical treatment. 

In one recording, for example, a mother talks about staving off death to attend her son’s high school graduation. In another, a caregiver reflects on the concept of “death with dignity”: When her time comes, she tells Reibel, “I don’t want to have a lot of tubes and Band-Aids and black-and-blue marks. I want it to be a peaceful death.” 

In recording such stories, Reibel helps people speak openly and for posterity about their feelings at a time of peril. He sees this work as a way to put into action the humanistic philosophy and tradition of public service that he first learned at Amherst, from pre-med adviser Richard Aronson ’69. Underlying that ethos, Reibel says, is a quest to “create conditions under which all people have the full equal opportunity to thrive in body, mind and spirit.”

After each interview, Reibel gives his subject a recording to keep as an heirloom. 

For those willing to share their stories with a wider audience, he’s created three- to five-minute YouTube clips. “I pulled out the best anecdotes that I thought would be useful to other people,” he says. One key message is that patients handle serious illness differently—whether through humor, through anger or with a mix of emotions. 

As for his own health scare, Reibel never thought he would die from testicular cancer—its survival rate is 99 percent if caught early. But he says that having to urgently reconfigure his routines to incorporate mentally and physically taxing therapies made him reevaluate aspects of his life. For him, a big lesson was realizing how much solace he takes from nature.

Reibel hopes the recordings and videos will be meaningful to patients and their families, as well as to strangers. He knows that having listened to these stories will make him a better doctor, too. 

Eric Goldscheider, an Amherst-based writer, is a frequent contributor to the Beyond Campus section.