A few weeks ago when I heard that the band N.E.D. was coming to the Iowa/Illinois Quad Cities in July, I knew I would move heaven and earth to attend. This is no ordinary rock band—the 6 musicians have important day jobs that (rightly) consume most of their time. But a couple weekends a year, these 6 gynecologic oncology surgeons trade their white coats for “RockDoc” attire to perform live together while raising awareness and research funds for GYN cancers.
Their documentary film, No Evidence of Disease, that I watched on PBS back in April, prompted me to pick up the phone the next day and book an appointment with a gynecologist. Plain and simple, had I not seen the movie, I never would have imagined my minor symptoms to be life-threatening, and would likely still be walking around today with a ticking time-bomb in my womb!
So this quick trip to the Quad Cities was my chance to see the band and (hopefully) thank them personally. Little did I know what would be in store for me!
A couple weeks ago, I posted my story to the N.E.D. Movie website's Story Wall, and the response from the film producers (and the band’s Facebook page) was immediate and euphoric. Apparently, I’m the first cancer survivor to credit the film & band for prompting them to seek treatment (Let’s hope many, many other women did the same as me after watching the film, but just got a clean bill of health rather than a cancer diagnosis!).
The band’s Facebook page sent a message to me to come to their tent on concert day and ask for Nicole and that she’d “set me up.” Alrighty, then!
The day before I left, I got a perfectly-timed “thank you gift” in the mail from the film’s producers—a very cool black NED T-shirt. Problem solved as to what to wear to the concert! Thanks Andrea & team!
The Quad Cities event (called GirlpARTS Fest) was organized by a terrific local advocacy & fundraising group, the NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Foundation, and was widely promoted via local newspapers, social media sites, and television. In fact, a long-time, popular local TV talk show host, Paula Sands, is an ovarian cancer survivor herself.
Paula had members of the band on her Friday show, and when the segment’s video clip posted to the web, I got an unexpected surprise at the 1:30 mark when one of the RockDocs mentioned my story!
So, last Saturday morning, with eager anticipation, I packed my overnight bag and made the 3 hour drive to the Quad Cities in the pouring rain (rocking out to N.E.D. songs the whole way of course!)
The forecast was calling for 50% rain all day & evening, so I brought a big umbrella, rain coat, and was prepared to battle the elements if I had to! But my first stop was to meet my old camping pal (and QC resident), Judi, for a quick lunch in Davenport. It was fun to see her again and catch up, even if it was just a quick get-together. Thanks for the delicious lunch, Judi!
By late afternoon when I arrived to Schwiebert Riverfront Park in downtown Rock Island, the rain had stopped and a beautiful summer day’s end was shaping up!
I headed straight to the N.E.D. tent where Nicole immediately greeted me with a big hug like a long-lost friend. I met so many women on this day who I seemed just as instantly comfortable. Cancer survivors don’t pussy-foot around and waste much time when meeting new fellow survivors!
Nicole popped a few CDs and a t-shirt into my hands (what every new band groupie “NEDhead” would ever want), and then told me I’d be meeting the band after the show to get them autographed. Wow!
But it didn’t end there! A few minutes later, she had me being interviewed by a reporter for the local Dispatch-Argus newspaper. Today, when I got back home, I was bowled over to see my name as the lead-off to his story about the event and the band! Holy cow!!!
After my quick interview, Nicole then introduced me to KWQC-TV’s Paula Sands, who was also the emcee for the event. What an inspiration! Not only beautiful on the outside (as you’d expect any TV celeb to be), but a very warm, charming, and down-to-earth woman as well. I could tell she felt very “at home” here with her fellow survivor “peeps.”
When Paula wasn’t introducing the next warm-up band, she was interviewing the organizer of the girlpARTS event, Jodie Kavensky, the head of the NormaLeah Foundation (named for Jodie’s mom, Norma, and her aunt, Leah, who both died of ovarian cancer).
What an incredible job both of these women have done to raise awareness about ovarian (and all GYN) cancer in the Quad City communities. I wish my hometown, Chicago, and many other places around the country had such passionate and effective advocates!
After my initial introductions, Nicole walked me and a few other survivors down to a table where we could create our poster boards. All the survivors would be featured on stage at the end of the concert. It was fun (and uplifting) to meet these other women, some who have battled this disease far longer and more painfully than I have.
Each cancer has their unique “color” for awareness swag – pink for breast cancer, peach for uterine cancer, and teal for ovarian cancer. This being primarily an ovarian event, there was lots and LOTS of teal on display--
The Fest included a benefit art show by 12 local artists who featured paintings on canvas, as well as one artist who painted a human!
Many survivors sported “Teal Tiaras” and even offered one to one the male N.E.D. docs. But not before he had to correctly answer the special club’s secret question: “Do you have any ovaries left in your body?”. Tiaras are only for those without ovaries! What a hoot these gals are!
In the sea of teal, I happened to sit next to an older woman also attending the event by herself. It turns out she had just been diagnosed with endometrial cancer 3 days earlier and had not even told her kids yet. It was good to be able to share information with each other. She thinks she likely got endometrial cancer due to taking Tamoxifen 10 years ago during her battle with breast cancer. So many of these GYN cancers can cause (or be the result of) another cancer such as breast, colon, or bladder. I’ll be praying and hoping all goes well for her in the months ahead.
As the sun began to set over the Mississippi River, it was time to head to our lawn chairs for the N.E.D. concert
The N.E.D. RockDocs hail from all over the U.S. From left to right, Drs. John Soper and John Boggess are based in Raleigh, NC, Dr. Joanie Mayer Hope in Anchorage, AK, drummer Dr. Nimesh Nagarsheth in New York City, Dr. Will Winter in Portland, OR, and Dr. William “Rusty” Robinson practices in New Orleans, LA.
When the band took a break, Nicole (sporting a new NED face tattoo!) gathered us survivors to give final instructions on how we would head up on stage with our signs.
The lighting (and music) was great for the band’s second set--
I recruited a delightful gentleman to take loads of pictures with my camera as I headed off with my posterboard sign to line up with the other survivors. Soon, Nicole walked up and directed me to the back of the line behind Paula Sands. My survivor story was going to be the very last one up on stage!!!
We didn’t really see each other’s posters until after the event and I was blown away to learn that one of the survivors I’d been chatting with earlier was nearly a 3-year survivor of Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. Wow! Others had been through equally harrowing experiences. None of them seemed as “easy peasy” as my journey has been thus far. These women very deeply inspired me—they’ve literally climbed mountains to my mole hill!
Soon it was Paula’s turn to come on stage. She’s been N.E.D. for 4 years now and I love how she defines her “after disease” life—Awake, Aware, More Blessed. It perfectly describes how each of the survivors I met seemed to be living their new lives. No “going through the motions” anymore with these women!
Finally, it was my turn to walk into the floodlights--
As I kneeled onto the concrete next to Paula at center stage, she leaned over smiling and said “now, just how are we going to stand ourselves back up?” Ha!! What a nut!
It was worth the few minutes of discomfort though. The sight of 20+ GYN cancer survivors on stage actually brought the Fest organizer, Jodie, and a few others in the crowd (and on stage) to tears. What a powerful way to end such an important event for so many of us.
The band performed a final encore as a few “cancer dancers” took to the stage. Afterwards, as promised, I got to meet and personally thank each band member for making such a difference in my life.
I will forever remember this very meaningful night with my “mighty” new friends along the banks of the Mighty Mississippi! They bolstered my spirits and resolve as I head off to start radiation treatments tomorrow.
Feeling more blessed, aware, and awake indeed!