All day long, KEXP is teaming up with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Proton Therapy Center to present Music Heals, dedicated to the power of music to lift our spirits and heal our souls in the face of cancer. From 6 AM to 6 PM, John Richards, Cheryl Waters, and Kevin Cole will tell the stories shared with us by members of our community and work in the songs that helped them through the healing process either emotionally or physically. We’ve shared a few of these stories below, along with their accompanying tracks. These messages from listeners show, as John puts it, “music can indeed heal; if not the cancer itself, then at least the pain and frustration that people experience.”
Later this evening from 6PM to 8PM, join KEXP and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Proton Therapy Center in the Gathering Space with guest DJs cancer survivor Cheryl Waters and Atticus whose mom is also cancer survivor. We hope you’ll join us for this free family-friendly dance party celebrating hope and survival.
[ see part one of these stories on the KEXP Blog here ]
My wife Nancy passed last May 21st after a 4 year fight against ovarian cancer. She loved The Cowboy Junkies and dragged me to a few of their shows over our 20 year marriage. Her favorite song was “Five Room Love Story.” The song that reminds me of her most is “Girl from the North Country” which I played at her memorial.
My father just passed this Thanksgiving from pancreatic cancer that he was diagnosed with six weeks prior. The entire process was devastating to my whole family but my father did not let it get to him and remained the kind and caring man he always was until the very end. In fact his last words were “I love you.”
When my family and I were planning the funeral service, I remembered he asked me to play “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong at his funeral when I was a little girl. A very strange request for a 10 year old but I’m glad he made it. Hearing the song now breaks my heart every time, but it reminds me of how lucky am I to have had someone so wonderful in my life.
Tomorrow, March 3rd, is my 24th birthday and my first one without him. Would you please be kind enough to play this song in remembrance of my father, Alan Gruver?
I’m a stage IV cancer fighter, and Melissa is my wife and my caregiver. Caregivers don’t get enough love in the cancer community, and they do so much to help us all deal with this horrible disease. On the day that I was diagnosed, Melissa and I spent much of the day in bed, weeping. Radiohead’s In Rainbows was there for us. Today I’m continuing the fight, and this album remains a favorite for long mornings and breakfasts in bed with my wife, my caregiver, and my girlfriend forever. I’d love it if you could play “Reckoner” for her, and all of the caregivers who are helping patients like me fight the fight each and every day.
Cancer is a big part of my Seattle story, unfortunately, but I’m pretty sure that moving to Seattle and having this happen to me here is what saved my life. My song: “Song Bird” from the Fleetwood Mac album Rumours. In 2010, I moved to Seattle after graduating from college. A large group of my college friends lived here and it was a really good time. I was an Americorps and my fiancee (then boyfriend) worked for a small tech start up — totally outside of his “field” as a Spanish and Music major at a liberal arts college! (Woo! Go liberal arts!) Anyway. In 2011, I was just 23 years old, in some of the best shape of my life (training for STP), and then that Spring, Swedish found a cancerous mass on my cerebellum.
I was transferred for care to the Ivy Center at Cherry Hill and I could not have asked for a better team. Dr.’s Hensen, Foltz, Landis, and Fitzharris took amazing care of me, always listening to my needs and explaining every step of the process along the way.
After brain surgery, radiation treatment, and three months of intense chemotherapy, I thought that, at 24, I was in the clear and this bout with a rare tumor would stay safely behind me as I continued to build my life in Seattle. Which I did! I love Seattle! I’m from the Chicago area and my now-fiancee is from Massachusetts and we have both found a great community here in the PNW. A community that, for me, definitely involves KEXP.
After 4.5 years of perfect scans, the doctors saw something they didn’t like, and here I am, back at it. Fighting the good fight against brain cancer. My prognosis is positive but at 29, I did not expect to be planning a wedding, starting a new job (in my career in education), AND figuring out how to organize my life around cancer. It’s a lot of work. And takes a lot of support. Which I am so grateful to have, near and far. My local people have shown up really hard for me and those who are far away, have sent as much love as they possibly could. And, of course, KEXP is a huge part of my recovery. I always know that I can tune in and have a good song to listen to. Thank you for providing that to the Seattle area. My disease and my care team are part of what keeps me physically here, but KEXP is part of what keeps my heart here.
Devon in Indianapolis:
Growing up, my Mom battled mental illness and spent time in and out of hospitals as she was misdiagnosed multiple times. My Dad stepped in as a pseudo-single parenting role as a result. Music was EVERYTHING to my Dad. He was tone deaf, but the original music snob, even going so far as to claim he had the first Rolling Stones record in Northern Indiana in the early 60s (he was THAT GUY).
Insomnia comes naturally in my family. My Dad would stay up late on Sunday nights and came across “120 Minutes” on MTV while flipping channels. Dave Kendall became well-known at my house. We discovered SO MUCH MUSIC from those late Sunday nights (which, back then, began at 11 PM in the summer and midnight in the winter). It’s how we learned about The Cure, The Smiths, Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Midnight Oil, Social Distortion, PIL, Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie and the Banshees…this list is endless. It became our “time.”
We bonded over music and hockey. When I was 15, my Dad drove me to Chicago to see the Blackhawks and we listened to Q101 together. A few months later, I decided to pursue radio as a career (whoops). I would go on to serve as a Programming Department Intern for Q101 in the summer of 1997.
Fast-forward to 2011 when my Dad went in for what was believed to be an appendectomy. Three hours passed and I hadn’t heard from my Mom. I then got a text from a church friend, telling me to call the ER waiting room. That was the night they found a nest of malignant tumors on my Dad’s appendix, intestines, and colon. No family history. Simple “bad luck,” according to the doctors.
He didn’t let that slow him down. He retired, started playing golf 6-7 days a week, and life was okay. He was also living with Parkinson’s, the result of a traumatic brain injury stemming from a drunk driving accident.
In the summer of 2015, my Dad went to the ER and my parents admitted the truth (which they were waiting to tell me): his cancer was no longer dormant. It was spreading and it was terminal. They estimated 6 months to a year.
Right after Christmas 2015/start of 2016, he went downhill physically and mentally. By the middle of January of last year, he was in hospice and was hallucinating. He finally succumbed to cancer on 3/23/2016, which is (sadly) my Mother’s birthday.
I miss our talks about stuff he heard on Sirius/XM. I miss him asking if Mike Ness talked about “being in prison” at the last Social D show I went to (fall 2015). I miss our drives in the car, listening to cassettes. I miss him driving me Michigan City, Indiana JUST so I could listen to Q101. He and my mom trucked me to Indianapolis to see my first concert — Depeche Mode. They trucked me to Chicago in the summer of 1996 to see The Cure. I tried to call him from The Raveonettes show in 2005….he said it sounded like my phone was breaking because it was so loud. He peppered me with questions the night after I saw the Rolling Stones at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (he also saw them…in the 70s).
My Dad would weigh in on the night I was asked to program the now-defunct 80s Channel/WXXY in Chicago – they did a two-hour alt/new wave show from 10-12 am on weekdays and the DJ gifted me two hours of programming when I left Northern IL in 2000 for Peoria for a radio job (I went to school in Peoria).
It’s been nearly a year and I still feel like I’m missing a limb. In 2015, he goaded me into signing up for the Mini-Marathon in Indy, the 13.1 mile run that includes running a full circle around the world’s most famous race course. He had passed away between the 6 and 10-mile training runs. That was my first half-marathon. Crossing the finish line was one of the greatest moments of my life and I felt like he was watching.
An accomplished writer, his last work was editing/writing devotionals and intertwining R.E.M. lyrics. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” was read during his eulogy.
With all that said, what got me through this was the bands we loved. It would mean a lot to me to hear Shriekback’s “Nemesis.” He heard it on a compilation CD he got me at Best Buy in college and became obsessed with the lyrics about “parthenogenesis.” Thank you, John. KEXP has helped me so much in my grieving in the last year.
I am almost one year out of completing chemotherapy for breast cancer.
I kept a blog during the entire journey, and music played a big part — yes, in my illness, but more importantly, in my recovery.
I decided that “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John was my cancer song. I listened to it regularly over the course of my treatment, and in July, when I had a “done with cancer treatment” party, I danced my ass off to it in victory. It now brings a smile to my face and puts a spring in my step, because I am, in fact, still standing — suck it, cancer.
I don’t know if my cancer will come back. I am only 38 and I hope that I will get to see my kids grow up and have children of their own. But no matter what happens, I will face adversity with a defiant snarl and the knowledge that I can do anything now that I’ve done this.
Susan in Olalla, WA:
Cheryl’s experience with breast cancer frightened me — the thought of losing her was not something I wanted to face. She touched so many of us so positively before her battle and during? Even more. Then, my great radiologist found a weird mass in my breast during a routine mammogram. She let me take a look at the images and I knew from seeing them, very different looking than all the other normal (for me) lumpy tissue, and her reaction that it was serious. I was scheduled for an ultrasound and biopsy the next day but I was already certain it was cancer this time. I had two previous biopsies but had never felt any concern before this time.
So the next day, I’m lying on this table in a somewhat contorted position waiting for the doctor to appear, when I clearly hear Britt Daniel singing in my mind “You’re gonna take another chunk of me with you when you go… yeah just go” from “Let Me Be Mine.” I broke out laughing. Feeling much less tense and much more capable to deal with whatever would come my way, I thought of Cheryl, very thankfully, for pushing me into being a huge Spoon fan and making that moment possible when my brain took it upon itself to make me laugh. Of course, I contacted her later. She’s been an inspiration for me — her cancer was very certainly more serious than mine but she persevered and spent as much time on the radio with us that she could. I am lucky to have a very small chance of recurrence and also very lucky to be a member of the KEXP community.
So I was diagnosed with stage III rectal cancer when my first/only born was barely five months old. No family history, 10 years pescatarian, never smoker, generally fit — it didn’t make sense. I was confused, I was scared, I was pissed af.
I kept a blog as a way of both staying in touch with loved ones (FB was still in relative infancy back in 2008) and venting my spleen to the anonymous universe, where I posted my cancer playlist [via Mixwit]. Thankfully I had the foresight to note the playlist since Mixwit is no longer with us.
The Notwist — “Chemicals”
The Clash — “Lost in the Supermarket”
Mission of Burma — “Academy Fight Song”
Cloud Cult — “Take Your Medicine”
The Postal Service — “This Place is a Prison”
REM — “Leave”
Modest Mouse — “Edit the Sad Parts”
Fugazi — “Waiting Room”
McLusky — “To Hell With Good Intentions”
Hole — “Violet”
Death Cab for Cutie — “Why You’d Want to Live Here”
Fiona Apple — “Never is a Promise”
Bloc Party — “Like Eating Glass”
Built to Spill — “You Were Right”
The Mountain Goats — “This Year”
I would image that many of the songs would resonate with people going through the cancer wringer, but a few — like “Lost in the Supermarket” and “Violet” — specifically relate to my experience of having zero appetite on chemo and my daughter’s name, respectively.
If I were to formally request one it would be “Take Your Medicine” since cancer was the thing hidden in my belly, controlling my life. It also told me to suck it up and stick with the treatment plan.
One final anecdote: I was driving to chemo one day when I heard Kim Addonizio’s poem, “Eating Together” read on NPR. Not sure if it would be too dark to include in Music Heals.
Greg from Greenlake:
Hi John. Thanks again for the music heals event. I’m so sad to be out of town, but so appreciate what you’re all doing. I’ve been very fortunate to work at Fred Hutch/Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for over 15 years helping patients in need of a bone marrow transplant (BMT) after I lost a brother many years ago following BMT for leukemia.
But I’m not writing about me. You know about my friend, Spaz, who was officially cured of breast cancer the day you threw me on the air to dedicate Yaz “Only You” in honor of her I’m big day. I still feel so blessed by her recovery, but I’m writing for my friend, Darryl, who continues to write the story of living with cancer.
I wish I was in Seattle now so that I could find some way to introduce you to Darryl. He is the single person I most admire in the world. I would feel that way even if he was never diagnosed with cancer, but he also just happens to have recently celebrated 2 years out from being told he had a year to live because of his disease.
Darryl and his wife now live in Seattle, which allows me to share time and experiences with them. I will be immensely proud if my workplace (SCCA) can finally cure Darryl of his aggressive disease, but in the short term, I’m thankful for every smile and laugh that we are able to share.
Darryl and a co-conspirator changed the format at my college radio station to the exciting new wave of music that the late 70’s and early 80’s ushered in, and he’s a big reason why I love so much of the same music that led me to become part of the Morning Faithful. I’m actually back in CT for our annual college radio reunion, which includes a chance to go back on the air.
Darryl has been wildly successful at everything else he’s done. He’s authored a book, founded a marketing agency that was on the forefront of social media, and set it all aside to live the life of a nomadic wanderer overseas with the same exuberance of the youngster who sang in a punk band in CT.
This cancer thing, though, keeps trying to write a different chapter in the story. Darryl has pursued many different treatments and clinical trials since diagnosis and recurrence. He now calls Seattle home and his care is being managed by SCCA. I’m hoping to get him into a spacesuit when STRFKR play in Seattle next month.
I hope he goes to KEXP for the Music Heals event. If he does, I will tell him to say hi. Thanks again for all you do to build this special, caring community.
In April of last year, my amazing wife of 12 years and mother of our 10 year old daughter, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. Over the spring and summer, her mom and I would take turns bringing her to Swedish Cancer Center to get her chemotherapy. I’d always do my best to keep the radio tuned to 90.3, always hoping for something that would put wind in my sails and motivation. This happened on more than one occasion. One morning, my favorite band of all time, Rocket From The Crypt popped on with “Ditch Digger.” Another morning, the unmistakable first notes of harmonica from The The’s “Slow Emotion Replay” hit me with a wave of warm and much needed nostalgia. I don’t think I’d heard that song since I was in high school. The presence of those tunes and the station to play them fortified me to be the best source of strength I could be for my wife, if only because selfishly it brought back memories of more youthful and carefree days. My wife, Heidi, has since completed months of chemotherapy in November. She has also just completed a stem cell transplant and another huge dose of chemotherapy. Her hair has fallen out, she is weak, but she has a strength I could never muster. Thanks for being a place I (we all) can turn to for great tunes, positive vibes, and real people sharing their triumphs and struggles. I can’t think of another place where I can get the right song at the right time to really turn a day around. I love you guys.
During chemotherapy and 33 treatments of proton beam therapy at SCCA to eradicate a rare sinus tumor, I heard a song that captured my attention and heart: Josh Wilson’s beautiful 2010 song called “Before the Morning.” I love those lyrics giving such good advice and wisdom; they provided me with encouragement, purpose, and strength to continue when I wanted to quit!
In April of 2010, I got a text from my girlfriend Kathy while on a business trip. It was urgent – she wanted me to NOT listen to the voice mail she left. Weird. So, of course, I listened to it. She was crying. She had just gotten back to the apartment from an GYN appointment where she had an ultrasound to help diagnose a lump she felt in her abdomen. During the ultrasound, the technician got quiet, and abruptly got up and left the room. The doctor came back in, and in a very clinical voice said, “Your ovaries are quite enlarged. It’s likely malignant. You need surgery right away.” I flew home immediately.
Kathy was 36 at the time. Ovarian cancer is normally something that presents in older women. But here it was. And it had spread to lymph nodes, some of which had become so swollen that they engulfed the blood supply vessels to her kidneys. Stage 3c, and inoperable.
A local and well-respected oncologist recommended a three-step process. First, surgery to remove what was easy. Second chemo, to try to shrink what was left. And then three (maybe, if possible) a second surgery to get the rest of it. And then we’d just have to see. As we were leaving the Seattle office, sure that we had a plan, a crow flew right at us, cawing and harassing us. It kept doing this all the way to the car. When we got in, we sat there for a minute. Then Kathy said: “I’m going to die if I go down this path.” When we got back to the apartment, we started looking for more options.
A family friend put us onto a doctor in New York City (Memorial Sloan Kettering). Kathy was able to get a 10:00 AM appointment the next day. So we booked the redeye to JFK. She grew up on Long Island, so her mother met us and we went right into the city. We had dressed nicely, because she read somewhere that it mattered. It was so surreal – sleep deprived, dressed, wandering Manhattan on the upper east side, fitting right in, and feeling so isolated.
The doctor confirmed that, in its current state, Kathy’s cancer was inoperable. But he had a plan – we’d go back to Seattle for chemo. He was pretty sure the chemo would be effective. Then we’d have a single surgery and take as much as possible. She asked him if he’d do the surgery. He said he would, and he would bring in another specialist to handle the tricky kidney lymph nodes. He dialed SCCA right there and set everything up. After a teary night with her life-long NY friends, we flew home. Chemo started immediately. Her hair managed to stick around for a week or so, but then we gave in and shaved it down. She looked oddly good, in a Natalie Portman V for Vendetta kind of way. She got a nice wig. No one could tell.
After the third round of chemo, she had a CT scan. Amazing! The chemo laid waste to vast areas of tumors. Her blood markers dropped. A friend from Yakima, now a respected oncologist at UW agreed to look at the films after-hours. He said that the NY team we were working with was the best in the world, and that they wouldn’t hesitate to attempt surgery. So we got back on the plane.
Surgery happened a week later. 6.5 hours. Kathy’s parents, her sister, and two close friends (one from SEA and one from NY) sat with me. Other families were huddled up in different areas. Finally, they called us up. I sat with my notebook turned to a clean page… ready for all the bad news. Lost kidney. Cancer spread. Colostomy. Did our best. Don’t lose hope. But that’s not how it went. The surgeon came in, looked at us, and said “We got it all.” I didn’t look up… I wrote “got it all” on the page. And then I started asking questions “All of it?” “Yep, all of it.”
This was key. “100% resection” (their words for cutting cancer out) is one of the keys to surviving ovarian cancer. Responding to chemo is another, and we knew she had responded dramatically.
It wasn’t over by a long way though – we were in NY for 6 weeks before heading back to SEA. Chemo started again right away, only this time it was to be six rounds of a dose-dense regimen. This meant chemo every week for 18 weeks. She was so wrecked, and so strong. We lived at the base of Queen Anne hill (just a couple of blocks north from the new KEXP station) and every day she walked up the hill. Every day. So slowly, completely winded, step after step. Her feet were numb/burning/tingling. She was running on fumes. But the weeks passed, and soon it was time for the final CT.
At the appointment, the doctor told us that while he didn’t see any cancer, her numbers were still too high. Likely early recurrence.
We’d run out of options. She couldn’t have more chemo. There was no reason for surgery… not yet, anyway. Writing this now, 6 years later, I have no idea how we got through this time.
Fast-forward to summer. Kathy had to have a section of the original incision repaired – a minor operation. But they decided to look around while doing so. We were certain they’d find cancer somewhere. But they didn’t. It turns out that residual fluid from her first operation was causing her blood markers to be off. There was no cancer.
And 7 years later, there still isn’t…
Music played a big part in our experience. U2 Joshua Tree was her first concert (as a 14-year old) at MSG. This is still a big album for us. Also, Radiohead In Rainbows was a constant. KEXP is always on in the car — and often in the house.
My dad is THE reason I love music so much. My earliest memories are laying on his chest in our living room listening to the giant wood 70’s turn table play everything from Peaches & Herb to Captain & Tennille. There was always music. He passed this last may from lung cancer and it was horrible. Sometimes I just didn’t know how to handle it. Visiting was hard sometimes. I just didn’t know what to do. But I remembered a story you told about how you would sit with your mom and listen to some of your favorite songs together. One of the last times I visited, I bought him a bluetooth speaker and we just laid together in his bed and listened to some of his favorite songs. He would snooze in and out but I could tell it relaxed him. It brought me back to who my dad was before the horrible cancer. I miss him so much!
I can’t thank you enough for sharing your stories with us. You truly helped me be with him at the end. The music made it better. If you could please play what I’ve always considered “our’ song. We both loved it and growing up he would let me play it over and over on the stereo. Wings – “Silly Love Songs”
Uterine cancer got my Grandma. And as fate would have it, “The Wrote and the Writ” by Johnny Flynn was on heavy personal repeat at the time in early 2009. So now, every time I hear the line, “the breath I’ve taken and the one I must,” I lose it even though the genre is waaaay off.
I listened to really dark music during my cancer treatment (“Born to Die,” anyone?) but I also got to know Cheryl through our simultaneous treatments with the same oncologist and that relationship sustained me. I borrowed her hope and her strength. I’ve not participated in any cancer “events”, my survivorship has been very private, but you know what? I’m ready to dance it out. Thank you!
I lost my buddy Keith a couple months ago to brain cancer, he was 44. He produced We Jam Econo, The Minutemen documentary. Watt is a huge supporter of him and the film.
Would you please add “Dance me to the End of Love” by Leonard Cohen? My mother-in-law, Hattie, has been battling cancer for several years, her third time. She is a hero, for sure. She’s a mother, a grandmother, a teacher for decades, teaching preschool thru university (she holds a phd in early childhood education), a quiet strength to all. She is also a life-long student, always learning, always curious, always paving her own way. She is nearly 70 and has been a vegan for over 10 years — in Kansas City! She is much adored by all who know her, and this is her favorite song.
Jayme in New Jersey:
My grandma Isabelle had stomach cancer and went through chemo to shrink the tumor to a livable level. A year later, it grew back and she decided not to extend treatment. I used to drive an hour each way to see her at home, and I found that I couldn’t listen to most music I loved with lyrics. I needed something quieter and more contemplative. The Wilco songs’ length and instrumental sections and general themes of questioning the universe were helpful to me on those drives to and from her house as she got weaker and weaker. She died in November 2011 and I miss her every day.
Last year I was diagnosed with a type of throat cancer that had metastasized to a lymph node. It had extracapsular extensions, meaning that this giant, cancerous lymph node was signaling the entire lymph system as in, “Take me, here you go, let’s spread this baby”. Luckily, none of the others took up the call. At my first PET scan, I couldn’t think of a single song, so I just told the technician that I was a KEXP fan, and he could pick. He picked a playlist based off of Sufjan Stevens, and it included songs by The Shins, The Magnetic Fields, etc. It definitely made me feel better. Prior to this date, I had a major surgery to remove the cancer at the base of my tongue, and a partial neck dissection (it’s really called that) to remove the cancerous lymph node and many other lymph nodes to test them. As my talented surgeon told me afterwards, it was tough to remove (the known to be cancerous one) since it was nested between my jugular vein and my carotid artery. Leave it to me! Anyhow, a month later I started chemo and radiation. Seven weekly chemotherapy sessions, and 35 (M-F) radiations. Here is a slightly edited version of what I put on my Facebook wall on the first day, a day when no choice of music was given, yet I can tell you that it was ironically perfect:
While not really being made into a cyborg, it sure seems like it, for yesterday I had a device made of metal and plastic inserted into my upper chest, this port provides enhanced utilization for whatever is medically necessary. Also, today I went into the radiation room for the first time, and laid down to the sounds of “Shake You Down” by Gregory Abbott (1986) “Eenie, meenie, miney, mo, Come on, girl, let’s start the show,“ while my mask went over me and was locked down to the table. As treatment began, I saw that the devices swirling around my head in a 360 degree arc had different controls or even symbols on them. I could occasionally see the glow of the beam, and sometimes, my own face reflected back to me in a broken up refraction. An atmospheric mood light was filling the large, oval fixture that was suspended above me with soft blues, purples, and maybe even a subtle green. The light danced about. In the end, my face was left with imprinted grid marks that left me looking amphibian like for over an hour. Science Fiction- now!
Just past two weeks into treatment, I had a feeding tube placed in my stomach, and I was hospitalized for 24 days. I looked forward to the music at each of my radiations. One day further down on the calendar, I wrote “As what looked like green diamond dust fell towards me from the beam in the ceiling, the machine began to swirl around my head and this Police song came on “Do, Do Do, De Da, Da, Da…”.
It’s been a tough road, plus I’m still on the feeding tube almost six months later, and only eating five ounces of yogurt a day. For all the times that a song has come on via 90.3 that has made me cry, dance, or smile, I thank you. It’s also been especially great for me to play Live in Paris from Sleater-Kinney really loud in my car. I am now cancer free, and I’m recovering as well as I can with family, friends, doctors, physical therapists, a positive mindset and the help of music .