In 1993, I was in the prime of my singing/performance career as a featured soloist with Symphony Pops Orchestras. While performing in a Tribute to Irving Berlin with the St. Louis Symphony, I noticed that the last two notes in my upper register could only be sung when I moved to one side the lump on the right side of my neck.
Upon my return home, I told my voice coach about the problem and he suggested I see his ENT (ear, nose & throat doctor) ASAP.
I had found the lump a year before and had gone to an ENT who told me it was nothing to fear. When I asked if she shouldn't biopsy or remove it, she said, "it's difficult to get to and a messy operation. But, if it doesn't go away or it gets larger, come back to see me." It didn't 'go away' but it didn't get any larger, so I pretty much dismissed it until my experience in St. Louis.
I made an appointment with a new ENT who immediately upon examination and after hearing my story asked if he could have access to the previous test results. I agreed and after seeing the test results, he called me to return to his office the next day. "Yes" he said, "as you described the lump is located between the jugular and carotid arteries, but it's also laying on the Vegas Nerve and it needs to be removed immediately. You don't fit the profile for Head/Neck Cancer, so I'm expecting this to be benign. If I can peel it off the nerve and it has not invaded, the odds are good for you to continue singing."
Fortunately he was able to peel it off the invasion...but the biopsy showed Metastatic Squamous Carcinoma! After a great deal of research and discussion we decided on a fairly benign approach...meaning remove the tumor(s), tonsillectomy and lymph node dissection on the right front side of the neck, but forgo radiation unless tumor returned, which it did within 9 mos.
I think the lucky part about being an artist is that one is driven to CREATE! Being creative inspires ideas to share with others and for those of us who have faced 'trial by fire' I believe it is an obligation to offer testimony which may prove useful to someone in similar circumstance.
Now I had a real decision to make. My first inclination was to forgo treatment. My son was 15...I believed if I could have another 10 years of performance and he would by then be an adult, that would be a satisfactory trade-off. You see, I didn't want to 'murder' my voice with radiation. My voice was my identity. Music held my spirit. Performance was my ambrosia. My husband provided the voice of reason during this hysterical time. He suggested I see other doctors and take a tape recorder with me to each doctor appointment, then share the recording with my ENT for further discussion and debate. One of those doctors looked me straight in the eye and declared "you have METASTATIC Carcinoma!" He also made it clear that 10 years of performance was NOT guaranteed and that I would NOT know the moment of invasion. For a concert singer, that bit of information was terribly unsettling.
You see, I viewed treatment to be a choice between 'salvation vs. annihilation'...polar opposite ideas and rather un-resolvable for me.
A very close friend suggested I begin a 'dialog' journal by writing down the first thoughts that came to mind. I began by creating abbreviations to represent the various 'actors'..Cancer; Voice; Me. At first I used 'Can.' to represent the cancer, but the response was, "I like it. It means I can consume you." I immediately changed the abbreviation to 'cer', to which the response was, "good because phonetically speaking that spelling translates as 'Sir' and shows respect for me." That's when I decided to use the copyright sign ©...a c within a circle...and my immediate response was, "Ah Ha! Contained!!"
Then I began to dialogue with my voice--represented by a 'V' in the shape of a heart. When I told my voice I didn't want to 'murder' it with radiation, it responded, "Don't make me responsible for your death. If you can get to me after treatment, I'll be waiting."
However, the most important change I made was in the terms I used to describe treatment. Instead of 'salvation vs. annihilation' I finally realized treatment would be 'salvation & alteration'...something one can work with instead of trapping oneself inside a box!
At the beginning of the final week of radiation treatment, a dear friend of mine prepared a box of 'gifts' to open at the end of each day during that week. The gifts were not expensive, but they held her love and encouragement. This act of kindness and support has become one of my 'practices' plus I include a glass 'purple heart' to acknowledge courage for facing very challenging Life experiences. I have found that sometimes it helps to have something tangible, a talisman, to hold when going to treatment or struggling with a loss of any kind. Whenever I hear of other people struggling with difficult life experiences, I give them a purple heart at the beginning of the journey.
As for me, I trusted the response of my voice, took 6 weeks of radiation therapy, spent TWO YEARS recovering my performance voice beginning with one note upon which to build, strengthened surrounding muscles in the chin to support a drooping lip and blew bubbles with bubble gum to strengthen my tongue to eliminate a speech impediment. Gratefully, I performed professionally in five subsequent concerts. I recently saw the ENT who congratulated me on now being 16 yrs. out.
While I would have NEVER chosen to have this experience, I learned a great deal about myself. I no longer perform, which is a painful loss to me. At first I thought I would die the slow and woeful death of a daily 'leaking of the spirit' because of being unable to perform. It took some time and a lot of thinking, but I discovered one can 'reinvent' oneself when faced with the necessity.
I also think everyone actually has to face this 'reinventing' challenge throughout 'opportunity' came along through a health crisis, but we are all faced with the need to 'reinvent' ourselves through some of the most common reasons: the loss of a job or loss of youth & fitness or loss of relationships. The important thing to remember is that creating empowerment during such times leads to spiritual healing.

Author's Bio: 

MCatherine Lunsford-Bowles and her husband, Randy, started Hide a Heart™ in 2009. A devoted couple for decades, they continue to 'hide a heart' for each other at home in Oregon. To find a 'Hope & Healing' or 'Love You' Hide a Heart, please go to
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