As I stood in front of the audience at the TR Ranch that brisk October evening, I thought about life and how it has a way of surprising you.
If you had told me five years ago that I would be on a stage singing a cancer song, or any song for that matter, I would have said you were crazy.
How did I, a rather introverted person, wind up there then? Interestingly enough, I can thank cancer. Cancer? If you’re wondering if you heard me correctly. Yes, I did say cancer.
In 2016, I was diagnosed with two different types of cancer. My doctor noticed my blood levels were all elevated during a routine lab test, so he referred me to a hematologist. She diagnosed me with a rare blood cancer called polycythemia vera. I had barely absorbed this before I was hit with another setback, a diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma or breast cancer, only a couple months later. Sigh…not one of my better years. A rather challenging time of chemo, treatments, surgeries and procedures followed.
Since most of my pre-cancer activities, like running, were no longer viable, I searched for alternatives for my “new normal.” Fortunately, it seemed like opportunities for cancer survivors came knocking at my door. First, there was the Voices of Recovery writing workshop with Curtain Up Cancer Foundation. I took a spin as a model with Hope on the Runway. Then I followed that up with fly-fishing with Casting for Recovery. All of these events helped me move forward.
I joined a Veteran’s songwriting group called Soldiers Songs and Voices during the first part of 2019. They sponsored an annual songwriting event for military called Reveille Retreat at a ranch in Hallettsville. With a love of music and a secret desire to be singer-songwriter, I jumped at the chance to attend.
So…the first evening of the retreat I realized that I was clearly out of my league. Most of the Veteran attendees had written songs, were no stranger to performing and some had even recorded albums. Then there was me. Even before cancer, I was only an average guitar player at best. Now, with the neuropathy in my hands from the chemo, I was struggling to play the even simplest chords. The brain fog made it difficult for me to concentrate and remember songs without the music right in front of me. However, the incredible support and patience from the other attendees quickly overshadowed any doubts.
I knew even before I arrived at the retreat what kind of song I wanted to write; an upbeat song about not letting a cancer diagnosis defeat me. However, I had never attempted to write a song…ever. I was randomly paired with an incredible singer-songwriter, Mary Bragg.
She asked me about myself and what direction I wanted to go with the song. As I was sharing my long cancer story and things I had been involved in since, her eyes filled with tears. I looked at her a bit puzzled. She said that her mom had breast cancer and was currently undergoing chemo. As I started tearing up too, at that moment, I felt that there was some form of divine intervention that brought us together.
Within forty-five minutes, we had outlined a song and came up with a beautiful melody and lyrics. The “hook” of the song, as it is called in the songwriting world, was You Can Go.
I remember going back to the room and crying. Not from sadness, but from an overwhelming joy. It was hard to describe all my emotions during that time, but I thrilled beyond words that I had an integral part in writing a song!
They had a recording studio at the ranch. The next day, Mary and I recorded several versions, and despite the poignant tug of the song, were actually able to hold it together long enough to get a good track.
I apparently didn’t read the fine print when I applied to the retreat. I didn’t realize that on the last night we performed a song we wrote. Wait! What? What did I get myself into? Short of several concerts when I was a kid with our “captive family fans,” I had never performed live. Here they wanted me to sing in front of not only an audience…but a group of professionals in the music world. Yikes! But I did it!
Strangely enough, cancer has given me a sense of confidence. And singing my personal song…Oh my God what an extraordinary rush.
It was one of the best weeks of my life. Not only did I learn the songwriting craft from some of the finest artists and built some amazing friendships, but sharing my story through music was unbelievably therapeutic.
It’s been almost a year since I had my big stage debut with You Can Go. Since then I have played the song to several smaller groups. I wanted to do more with the song and the theme You Can Go, but ironically, with the COVID-19 pandemic with cancer, we can’t go…anywhere. Despite that, I continue to move forward.
I’ll be playing this song this evening. To all my fellow cancer survivors…you can go!