Little did I know that my little transistor AM radio dialed continually to my favorite top 40 station when growing up in Philadelphia, and attached to my ear many hours a day, would lead to a lifelong love of music.
That was the 1960s. Since then I've been part of the introduction of FM radio and 8-tracks, the death of vinyl and cassette tapes and the birth of CDs and iPods, I would never have imagined that music would get me through the biggest challenge of my life -- battling breast cancer.
A little history after my family moved to Greensburg when I was in high school: My first job, which I hated, was waitressing at a Valley Dairy on Route 30. Fortunately, I remember less and less about how horrible it was and more and more about how it enabled me to ditch my record player and buy my first stereo. Goodbye, beige plastic record player -- hello, Sanyo stereo with an 8-track player. I was living large.
Music has always been an integral part of my life and associated with so many memories -- the good, the bad and the downright ugly. We hear a song and are instantly transported to a different place, mood or memory. I have my walking music, my cleaning-the-house music, my workout music, my so-angry-I-could scream music, my road trip music and my personal favorite: first-day-of-warm-weather-to-drive-with-all-the-windows-down music.
The one artist firmly entrenched in every category is Bruce Springsteen, with and without the E Street Band.
So a year ago on March 22, when I was blindsided with the news that I had "invasive ductal carcinoma" (a.k.a. breast cancer) I walked to my car, called my husband and promptly put on a Bruce CD. I don't recall which album, because I was angry beyond words.
The diagnosis came as a shock. Really? Me? I had no family history. I watched, kind of, what I ate. I exercised regularly and wasn't overweight -- how did this happen?
Mad as hell doesn't begin to describe the level of anger. But the music helped and ultimately saved me. I listened constantly to Bruce -- and nothing else -- from the day of diagnosis to the day of my lumpectomy. New stuff, old stuff -- didn't matter. This is the music that would push me through nine grueling months.
Springsteen was my constant companion in the car, at home, working out, walking, in my classroom before and after school. It could get a tad annoying to everyone around me, especially when I was out in my backyard with my ear buds in and singing along. Too bad. Bruce and the E Street Band and I were going to fight this together, and fight it we did.
I started chemotherapy on May 20. Somewhere along the line I decided to pull out my concert T-shirts and wear them to each of my six treatments. It was a little corny, but I was going to "Rock This." Before every treatment I listened to the "Live/1975-85" album, mostly because of "Paradise by the C" -- my chemo warm-up song!
The staff of UPMC Magee's Women's Cancer Center was wonderful and always made comment on the shirt I was wearing, especially the ladies at the front desk. They were always anxious to see which tour would be worn next. Lo and behold, right next to where we make our appointments at the center, there is an autographed picture of Bruce! So of course I felt compelled to share my story of meeting and having my photo taken with Bruce after a Civic Arena concert in the '80s.
I brought in my picture, which they dutifully made a fuss over. Before I knew it they made a copy, and my photo went up on the wall next to Bruce. I have great memories of the ladies at the front desk and their compassion and the laughs we had over those long months.
If there was a way to thank Bruce and the band, I would. Maybe this will somehow find its way to them. Thank you, Bruce and band, for providing my fighting soundtrack and for the music that never lets me down.
As of today, I am cancer free and planning on staying that way. And on April 22 I will be at the Consol Energy Center in Section 214 enjoying every minute of Bruce and his band. I haven't heard "Paradise by the C" live for many years -- maybe I will this year -- but for me Paradise by the C will from here on out always be Paradise Being Cancer Free!
Elizabeth Shannon of North Fayette, a high school English teacher, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.