Musicians Battle Breast Cancer Through Stories and Music
by Cammi Clark
For singer and songwriter Eva Moon, using her music to tell breast cancer to “take a hike” may have been just what the doctor ordered.
“I was always known as this funny, sexy cabaret singer and I didn’t want to trade that in to be this victim girl,” she recalls thinking, after discovering she had the BRCA1 genetic mutation. Moon, who lives in Washington, then struggled with the difficult choice to remove her healthy breasts (and ovaries) or face incredibly high odds of a BRCA-related cancer, like the one that claimed her mother’s life.
“My boobs were always ‘da bomb,’ now they were a ticking time bomb,” she says. “At first, I kind of withdrew. I wrote a song during that time and didn’t share it because I usually wrote funny stuff about e-mail scams and Brazilian waxes and vibrators … but this song was sad. It was called, ‘Where Are You Now My Dancing Girl?’”
After a preventive double mastectomy, reconstruction, and hysterectomy, Moon decided to use her talent and passion for music to create The Mutant Diaries: Unzipping My Genes, a humorous solo musical about turning her devastating prognosis into a new lease on life.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) website, music therapy is the use of music by health care professionals to promote healing and enhance quality of life for their patients. There is some evidence that, when used with conventional treatment, music therapy can help to reduce pain and relieve chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. There are no claims music therapy can cure cancer, but according to the ACS website, medical experts do believe it can reduce some symptoms, aid healing, improve physical movement, and enrich a patient’s quality of life.
That’s exactly what Moon hopes her music does. “It was very healing to write the show, not just for myself, but for anyone in a similar situation,” she says. “In the beginning, there’s this raging tornado and eventually you will wake up in awe and it’s going to be beautiful and it’s going to be amazing. You find out how strong you are and what you are capable of, and what your super powers are … I found my mutant super power—I had the ability to change my future and share with as many people as I can through music and humor and give people a little view to the other side of the rainbow.”
With nine original songs, including “Ta Ta Tatas,” Moon performs live across the US and in London to raise awareness about genetic cancer and help women believe that there is not only life after this diagnosis, but that it can be better than ever. The show was recently released on DVD, for more info visit www.mutantdiaries.com.
In addition, Moon also supports nonprofit charities that raise money and support both survivors and previvors (those diagnosed with a BRCA gene mutation) through the Macmillan Cancer Support and Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE). In June, Moon spoke at the FORCE Conference on Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“Using music to both heal myself and bring laughter and hope to others has been the most rewarding outcome I could have wished for,” she says.
But Moon is not the only musician who has found solace in her music when face-to-face with breast cancer.
Dead girl walking
Marcy Brenner, 50, is a two-time breast cancer survivor (first diagnosed at 34), a performing songwriter, and breast cancer advocate and speaker who lives on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, off the coast of the Outer Banks.
Brenner has played music since she was three years old, but she was incredibly shy and had stage fright. “Music and my guitar have always been my best friends,” she says, admitting that she couldn’t get on stage to perform until much later in life. “I was not living the life I wanted to live and I wasn’t playing music.”
Brenner’s career began as a marketing person for amp and string maker Dean Markley in California. After her first divorce, she met her second husband, William Randolph Hearst II. In 1994, her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given only two to three months to live. Brenner and Hearst bought a place near her parents on the Outer Banks so she could spend as much time as possible with her mother, who actually lived for two and a half more years. About six months after her mother’s death, Brenner found a lump in her own breast.
“I just went through this all with my mom, and all of a sudden I was in the exact same place … I sat in those same chairs and with the smells and sounds, it was horrifying to be back in those places, this time with me sitting on the other side,” she says. The cancer also took a toll on Brenner’s marriage and they were divorced.
Brenner battled a second cancer and was in remission at the end of 2000 when she set her next life goals: “I wanted to fall in love again and I wanted my whole life to be about music.”
About six weeks later, she met Lou, her current husband. “I gave him an option to keep searching for somebody else … I’m a two-time breast cancer survivor. My life expectancy is limited. My future does not look good,” she told him. His reply: “I’d rather love you for five minutes than not at all.”
“We had an immediate spark and wrote a song about this moment,” she says. “And at that point, I wanted others to know it was okay to survive cancer.” That’s when Brenner’s friends helped her create a documentary called Dead Girl Walking, the story of Brenner’s journey. “We all have scars and we all walk around with our partial selves. Music helped me and saved my life,” says Brenner, who is also a volunteer for Reach to Recovery.
Just like Brenner, Linda Collins also credits her music with helping to save her life. Collins has been onstage most of her life, in both acting and music, performing in numerous symphonies and musical theatrical productions. But in the late ’90s, Collins career abruptly came to halt when she was critically injured during a performance. A wheelbarrow full of logs rolled off the stage and on top of her in the orchestra pit. The next few years, she went through recovery, physical therapy, and more, unable to play music. Just as she was going back to her music, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2000. “I was mad and angry,” says Collins who was only 40 years old at the time. “My immune system was already weakened and my immune system couldn’t fight it off.”
It was at that point that she decided that she needed to get back to her music more than ever. “I needed that in my life to recover,” she says. So a few months after being diagnosed, while she was still undergoing chemotherapy and had lost her hair, she slapped on a wig and auditioned for a position as symphony French hornist. She got the job. And she credits her music with getting her through and helping her heal.
Collins, who lives in New York City, says her goal now is to help others heal through music and she offers inspiration to those battling cancer through her twitter feed @slayingcancer.
“I’m very respectful of the depth of my goals,” she says. “And playing my music for others, well, I believe it can save a life.”