Music as the Great Escape (Part 2)

In Part 1, I wrote about how playing in a symphonic band presented challenges for me to overcome in the wake of my chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). In overcoming those hurdles, I gained a sense of belonging and time away from dwelling on my illness.

Three summers ago, I was feeling down. I remember sitting on the couch in my apartment thinking about how CML impacted my life negatively and trying to fight off tears and looming depression. Been there, done that... didn’t want to head down the same road.

Coincidentally, I went on Facebook, the older person’s social media outlet (!), and saw an ad about a chorus in a neighboring community. It was no ordinary chorus; it was a rock choir. Being a fan of rock music, especially progressive rock, and 80s music, I read on. There were no auditions, no judgment, just a place for people of all ages to come and sing together.

Healing through music

Their motto centers around “healing through music,” and I was certainly up for some healing. I jotted down the information about the first rehearsal and let it sit for a while. I even asked a few people I know whether or not they thought I should join.

“Why?”

“You aren’t a singer.”

“What would make you do that? You have cancer.”

But one friend said, "absolutely," and encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone, try something new and not listen to naysayers. Right, I’ll do it, I thought. When the day came, I panicked. It was pouring rain. I had directions to the rehearsal hall about 25 minutes away but began questioning my sanity. I didn’t know any of these people. Suppose I felt awkward? What if I got lost? What if leukemia reared its ugly head and I had to miss rehearsals in the future? Add to that, I was hobbling around with a cane and a boot on my foot because of an Achilles tear injury. I was self-conscious.

I'm still the same Susan

Nevertheless, I willed myself to go, wanting to prove to myself that somewhere deep inside, I’m still the Susan of the past—BC (before cancer). I’m not a coward, I’m kind of feisty. And so I went. I was in a room with 100 plus strangers, handed a notebook of music and we were off. I stood in the very back row on the end of course, amidst about 40 other newcomers who were trying it out.

It was strange, fast-paced, and intimidating. But I went back. By the second week, there were about a half dozen newcomers left. The others had bailed. I made a friend with a fellow newbie, the person standing beside me. We ended up extending our friendship to nights of theater, concerts, and other outings. I told her about CML right away. Luckily, she was more helpful than horrified.

Sharing my story

Over the two years that followed, a few other people learned about my blood cancer. One time, someone asked me why I was wearing an orange support bracelet. Who did I wear it for? So, I told her the truth and a few other members were around and heard.

They expressed surprise that I spoke so freely about it and that I wasn’t letting it stop me from going out and having fun singing.

Then, we all went back to acting normal again and “healing through music.” No judgment. They all treated me like a human. Plus, they sound great. If there is a lesson to be learned through this: you are still you. Live your life, blood cancer or not.

Unfortunately, the pandemic brought the group to a screeching halt. Meanwhile, when I’m home and especially when I’m feeling down, I start listening to my favorite bands, sometimes for hours at a time. I go into the zone, concentrating on what I’m hearing and for however long, being the old Susan again.

CML is not allowed in.

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