Guest Writer: Musician Amy Kress – Her Breast Cancer Journey
Amy Kress is from Colorado, like me. She is also a very gifted musician and when she offered to share her story with my readers, I jumped at the chance because of three important things. One, I believe that the telling of our stories can help each of us in different ways, and Amy’s courage and humor in the face of devastating reality shines through. Two, she is a younger woman with breast cancer and I know a lot of my readers are in that category. Third, and perhaps the most compelling reason, is her description of the importance of living your dream.
This is Amy’s story, in her words.
“When I first received the diagnosis of cancer it was devastating. First of all, cancer wasn’t supposed to happen to me. Not ME! Cancer happens to other people. Elsewhere. There was that moment of disbelief: the realization that my body had just turned on me. The one thing I thought I could count on was that my own body wouldn’t try to kill me. And then it did. Brutal.
“The really hard part is the re-remembering of the diagnosis. It was a grueling couple of weeks.
I would be shopping in the grocery store, weaving up and down the aisles. I check my list: I have bread, milk, tomato soup, Advil and cancer. Ugh. I would be taking a shower and as I began to rub shampoo in my hair I would remember that my days of shampooing my hair were numbered. You’re kidding me. I would wake up in the morning, blurry eyed, and see my room take shape – the dresser, the alarm clock. I have to be up because… doctor appointment… I have cancer. Sh*t. Every time the realization hit again was like a punch in the gut.
“I was 37 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had no family history and eventually learned that I was negative for the breast cancer gene. The whole thing was a total shock. I was married with two kids, my son was 7 and my daughter was 4. Monsters are just things you don’t understand and this diagnosis was a giant monster. Was this going to kill me? How would we treat it? Would my children grow up without a mom? What’s going to happen to me? What if 37 years was all I got on this planet? What have I done? I was a housewife, and not a very good one. I worked out, I made breakfast, lunch and dinner. I helped the kids with their homework and had lunch with my friends every couple of weeks. And I wrote music when no one was around.
“I have been a musician ever since I can remember. My mom had me in piano lessons since I was 3 and while I went through a spell where I hated the lessons, I always loved to play. I wrote my first song when I was 10 and it became this thing that I did. Music became my passion in high school. I took up French Horn in 5th grade and continued with that in both concert and marching band. I took up trumpet in jazz band and joined the choir too. I sang soprano in a special madrigal group and even tutored other students on the French Horn. When I graduated high school I won the award for Top All Round Musician for having participated in every music program they had. And then it stopped.
“I didn’t go to university for several reasons and at some point became surrounded by people who weren’t musical at all. It became a lost talent and eventually it was just something I used to do. I would flirt with music every once in awhile when someone with a musical leaning would come into my life, but it didn’t feel right. Soon music was a thing of the past and I continued on without a real purpose, just living day to day. Waiting… for what, I don’t know. I just knew that this couldn’t be my life forever. Something was coming.
“It came on May 31, 2011. Estrogen and progesterone positive breast cancer just beginning to metastasize with some lymph node involvement. Bam. There ya go. When I seriously considered that all the imagined possibilities dancing on the horizon of my future may never come to fruition, I was chilled to the bone.
“I had all these secret songs written but they were special. They were all colors of my soul: a musical description of my psyche. They were something that if someone were to listen to them 100 years after I’m gone that person would get a sense of who I was. But very few people had ever heard my music. I would be gone in more ways than one. Not even a sound of me would be left and that terrified me. It rocked me to my core.
“Much time and patience, tears and answers later I found myself without a breast or hair. I needed a mastectomy on my right breast and 4 sessions of chemotherapy did away with my two feet of hair. I opted for reconstruction and upgraded the girls to a full C instead of my previous unenthusiastic B. At least some good can come from this. As I healed both physically and emotionally from the upheaval the cancer caused, I began to think I needed to make someday today. I needed to live my dream. I was given a second chance to live the life I was born to live and my God, nothing was going to stop me.
“I began to play the piano more and more, working to develop my little scraps or doodles of melodies into full songs. I recorded myself on my phone and posted the samples up on Soundcloud for prospective musicians to listen to my style. It was a producer at a local recording studio, Glenn Sawyer of The Spot Studios in Lakewood, CO, who came across my music and wrote me asking if I would like to work with them to produce my songs. I jumped at the chance. It was September of 2013 when I met Glenn for the first time. He was under the impression he was just giving me a tour of the studio but I was ready to record. I had a full song, The Way I Want You, written and I wanted to hear what they could do. You can hear the result on my first album aptly named Secret Music. Clearly I loved what they did because I kept coming back for more.
“Bringing a song to a producer for me is like bringing a black and white sketch to an artist to paint. Each artist will color it differently but in the end it’s the same drawing. I really like the way Glenn and his co-producer, Rich Veltrop, color my music. They have a talent to make my songs sound rich and beautiful. I am so proud to share them now and tell everyone with pride that I am a musician. Really and truly. I am what I have always dreamed I would be.
“I was approached by Joel Rekiel who wanted to work as my manager and I signed a contract with him in the spring of 2014. He has been working tirelessly to further my career by booking shows, ordering merchandise to sell, creating a website and managing my social media among many other things. My first album is due out January 2015 and my publicist is actively promoting both me and the album’s release. Things have been taking off. Amazing! The stuff movies are made of! This is MY life! Wow! Every day was Joie de Vivre: the exuberant joy of life!
“Then, in September 2014, I was diagnosed with cancer a second time.
“Wait wait wait wait wait…what? NO! I DID that already. I saw the errors of my ways! I made the changes that I needed to make! I’m living happy now! I got the message loud and clear!!! So…..what the f**k!? This time it was in the lymph nodes under my right arm. I found a lump and a needle biopsy revealed it was cancerous. They removed 10 lymph nodes and found them all positive for breast cancer. Please re-read the second paragraph above.
“Bone scans, Pet Scans, CT scans, MRIs, the good news is the cancer is localized to under my right arm. Armpit cancer. Classy. It’s still breast cancer though and as it’s in the lymph nodes it is fair to say there are traces of it all through my body. So. Chemo. Again. This time a group of drugs much more aggressive: increased nausea, more difficult to endure. I’ll admit that for a month after the diagnosis and decision to proceed with chemo I was in a serious funk. I cried. I was angry, no, I was furious. NOW!? Now I have to go through this when my dream is a growing reality!? This is the epitome of unfair! I realize I’m being dramatic, but DAMN IT!!!
“This is going to suck.
“I opted for cold cap treatments this time. In case you are unfamiliar, the idea is to freeze the scalp and reduce blood flow to the area and thereby prevent the chemo drugs from coming in contact with the hair follicles. This is achieved by wearing a series of caps all chilled to -30C and worn for 30 minutes each. You start an hour before treatment and continue wearing them through the course of the 2 or 3 hour treatment and then for 3 hours after. Yeah. It isn’t nice. It may be bordering on torture, but my hair looks good still. I’ve only lost a few hairs so far and by the end of the treatment I may lose as much as 30% of my hair – but I’ll still have 70%. I never said I wasn’t vain.
“I have been blessed to become friends with the guys at the studio and Glenn understands that music is what drives me. We have been actively writing my second album and, I think, just finished the music for it yesterday. There is still work to do but it is a welcome diversion from cancer and doctors and hospitals. Plus it is an AMAZING album if I do say so myself. Every song is my favorite, but then all my songs are a collection of jewels to me. Each shines and glitters in a different way but is no less beautiful. I cherish them as they are all part of me. I look at them in my playlist and think “This is me. This is what I get to leave in this world. Something of me will live on.” And I feel complete.
“I feel now, even with 2 chemo sessions under my belt and 6 ahead of me, I can see the end of this trial. I can begin to visualize the after. The next step: that I will continue to do music and find joy in my experience. I will find my joie de vivre again. My friend Sam told me something yesterday: ‘Music is a gift that was given to you but it isn’t for you. It’s for everyone else.’ I have something to share. I can’t up and die yet. I have a dream to live.
“You can learn more about me on my website where I blog about stuff in general and get updates on my music. www.amykressmusic.com
“You can also follow my experience as I continue through my treatment and beyond on my Caring Bridge page: www.caringbridge.com/amyhumphreys1.
“Your life can change in the time it takes to answer the phone. Savor the moment, the joy of being.”
Beautifully written, Amy, and thanks for sharing your story with us. We wish you much healing and joy in the coming years. And we want you here with us.
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