Together we were playing Jazz
My mother and I were more than best friend forever (BFF’s) in our relationship; we were sisters in a battle against breast cancer. This journey began over sixteen years ago for me in October of 1997 after dad died. Mom taught me the significance and grace of unconditionally loving another person, and she has always encouraged me and supported me in every aspect of my life. We stemmed the tides of loss, grief and pain throughout the whole process. We were each other’s caregivers. Dad introduced the harsh realities of living a creative life. Now I know it was his way of preparing me to stand on my own and not to rely upon his career accomplishments in the jazz and entertainment arena. That’s why it was such a blessed life because he took me to rehearsals, festivals, recording sessions, where he introduced me to Dizzy, James Moody, Count Basie, Igor Stravinsky, and Ralph Gleason to name a few that individually and collectively transformed my creative life. I thought I was secretly writing in my journals — poetry and lyrical prose/essay that I created when dad was composing songs on the piano downstairs in 1963. I found out that he knew about my writing all along when I found the Gibson guitar he gave me when I was 9. I opened it up and found all of my writing nestled between the sheet music. It was the beginning of my wonderful and enchanted life of musical thinking.
The minute the word cancer entered your house, everything changed. I felt desperate and frightened by the prospect of cancer and another death. But I refused to take this lying down. I dove directly into the cresting wave of the unknown and sprung into action—there were logistics to deal with and mom needed support. I moved back in with her after dad’s death and we struggled with missing dad, but also dealing with taxes and issues related to her therapy.
Chemotherapy is brutal. Radiation was something else. The goal is to kill everything in your body before it kills you. I wanted to take the burden off her. When dad had his massive stroke he was on a respirator and in a coma we asked my brother to make a tape of dad’s music to play continuously in his ears. After ten days, he was out of the coma and was breathing on his own. You can’t tell me that God didn’t have a role in that.
I decided to bring a tape of his music into the chemo suite when she had chemo and radiation therapy and it majestically made the most terrifying moments evaporate from both of us. It not only served as a connection between the two of us, it was a connection for the other patients and the hospital staff as well. We laughed and interacted with one patient in particular, Pat. Pat had colon cancer. It had metastasized and spread to her bone. I met her when I had my mastectomy and she lay in the bed next to me after surgery. Mom came in and waited for me to come around. I opened my eyes and there they were. What a beautiful sight. Apparently mom and Pat formed a bond. When mom had the pick put in, Pat hovered over me like a lioness guarding her cubs. After the pick was in mom, she developed a serious infection they could not control. After a week, mom was moved to a nursing home in Paramus New Jersey for 90 days. I couldn’t drive so Pat would come and sit on my bed holding the phone while we talked to mom and talked until the nurse came in and told us she would have the phone removed. Mom had two daughters now. That spring all we did was laugh and act silly….More to come. Peace Out!