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My little sister was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year. It’s been a tough couple of months for her, beginning with the mammogram, then the bad news, a double mastectomy, issues with poor circulation due to a low heart rate that brought on another surgery, and now chemotherapy. Last week she got the cutest haircut. Next week it’s all supposed to fall out. “Did you know every single hair on your body falls out during chemo?” she said to me. Every single hair.
These days, I figure probably just about everybody knows somebody who’s going through cancer and – if they’re lucky – treatments to get rid of it for good. But for the unfamiliar, chemo is basically the process of poisoning someone in order to trick cancer into jumping ship, believing that it’s on a doomed vessel. Radiation, interferon, chemo, it’s all the same principle. Almost kill you to cure you.
To prepare herself to be willingly poisoned over the course of 12 weeks in order to save her life, Dana has adopted several new routines. Acupuncture, lots of sleep, some serious changes to her diet, appointments with a wig maker, a mani-pedi and dancing or an hour-long walk every day to get her heart rate up.
I’ll come back to the cancer in a minute, but let’s change course for a moment and talk about music, ’cause that’s why we’re here, right? My entire adult life – pretty much since the moment my sister’s musical tastes and mine finally converged – I’ve been making Dana mix tapes. I would send her audio letters on cassette when I lived far away in Alaska. An update on my life on side A, music on side B. When someone burglarized her Portland home, they took all her jewelry, TVs, stereo equipment, all the store-bought CDs. I cried when she said they’d stolen Grandmommy’s jewelry, but had left behind the only other irreplaceable items of major value to her: “All the homemade CDs you’ve given me over the years.” You see why I love this girl?
The day after her first chemo treatment (which was a five-hour epic adventure) she called with a progress report. With all the vitamins, steroids and anti-nausea medication, she was feeling really good. Dana asked if I would put together an upbeat playlist of songs she could stream on her iPhone while walking or dancing in the living room, when she tries to keep her heart rate up to dance away the bad juju and bring on the healing mojo. She mentioned that she’d been dancing to a song I turned her on to some months ago, “F*ck You” by CeeLo Green. It is a pretty catchy tune, even with all those F-bombs. There’s a clean version for radio airplay, but that’s not what I gave her. Because sometimes, a colorful metaphor is the appropriate word in certain situations. And who doesn’t want to give cancer the middle finger?
My sister is certainly not alone in the cancer battle. While she was the inspiration for this column, I’m writing it for all of you who’ve been given the bad news, and have endeavored to work as hard as you can to get cancer out of your lives for good. But besides all you fighters and survivors, there are also a lot of family members, friends and loving supporters out there, actively working to help find a cure. Redding’s Relay For Life was held this month, but in many of our neighboring cities (like Portland), they’re still excitedly preparing to hold the annual cancer-fighting fundraiser. In honor and in memory of our friends and family members who fought (or are still fighting valiantly), pass on this link, and share a little walking music with them as they keep up the good fight.
Dana, this playlist is for you, as you kick cancer’s ass.
And girlfriends, get thyselves scheduled for a mammogram.
*F-Bomb Alert: Songs marked with an asterisk include adult language.
- Cee-Lo – “F*ck You”* As my friend Naomi said the other day, “F the Big C.” I’m sure she meant fight. Well, maybe not.
- Travie McCoy – “We’ll Be Alright”* Because Dana, you will be alright. You’re a fighter. You’re an Ing, after all.
- Outkast – “Hey Ya” Come on, you know you were thinking about this song while listening to the last one, weren’t ya?
- Hot Chelle Rae – “Tonight Tonight” – One of the best party tunes of the year so far! It’s my party, I can dance if I want to … where have I heard that before?
- Amber Riley & The Cast of Glee – “Hell To The No” –Is cancer gonna bully you around? Hell to the No! (By the way, you can thank your 13-year-old niece Sophia for this song and a whole smattering of others on this playlist!)
- Pepe Deluxe – “Salami Fever” – I dare you not to do the Robot to this song! It’s harder than you think.
- Michael Franti – “Shake It” –There’s never been a more positive body image song than this “You’re perfect just the way you are” tune, and I love Michael Franti twice as much after hearing it. I just wish I could convince him to come play in Redding so I can thank him in person.
- Weezer – “Troublemaker” – I’m a troublemaker, never been a faker. Doing things my own way and never giving up. Words to live by!
- Kirsty MacColl – “In These Shoes” – Red shoes, I’m thinking. Because every time my sister hears this song, she feels compelled to drop whatever she’s doing to karaoke. It’s a damn fine song for the ladies.
- They Might Be Giants – “Don’t Let’s Start” – OK, I admit it. I’ve got one too. This song is my Red Shoes. It is not an option for me to sit this one out. Wake up and smell the cat food!
- Bruno Mars – “Lazy Song” – Because there are gonna be days when the steroids and the vitamins and the anti-nausea drugs wear off, and you’re gonna feel like not doing anything. And that’s okay. You just keep fighting cancer right there, while you’re chilling on the couch. This one’s from Jesse.
- Andy Grammer – “Keep Your Head Up” – This was a last minute addition, but I couldn’t leave it out with lyrics like this: This is just a journey. Drop your worries. You are gonna turn out fine. But you gotta keep your head up, and you can let your hair down.
- The Beastie Boys – “Shake Your Rump”* or “Good Ol’ Fashioned Rumpshaker”* The second is the catchy mashup version that combines the Beastie original with “Good Ol’ Fashioned Nightmare” by Matt & Kim. Either way, whatever gets your rump moving!
- Sir Mix-A-Lot – “Baby Got Back” – And speaking of rumps … girl, you may not have much front, but dang, you got plenty of back. Work it!
- Lily Allen – “F*ck You”*– You thought Cee-Lo did it first? Nope. Different words, same title. And there is no clean radio version of this one, penned by a witty British singer who had an American president of yore in mind when she wrote it. But let’s keep politics out of the playlist today, and instead think of this song as the epitome of giving cancer the middle finger. Cuz, seriously, Cancer, do you really enjoy living a life that’s so hateful? Just go away, would ya? We’re kicking you to the curb, like a bad boyfriend.
- Earth Wind & Fire – “Got To Get You Into My Life” – Actually, I’m just hoping I get to keep you in my life, and I’m using a horn section to help achieve that goal.
- E.L.O. – “Mr. Blue Sky” – Everyone who’s ever lost every single hair on your body, imagine yourself dancing barefoot in a soft grassy field, eyes closed, the warm sun on your face, this song blasting in your headphones. This is for all of you.
- Nina Simone – “Feeling Good” – It may not be that danceable, but it is most definitely the ultimate feel-good song.
Valerie Ing-Miller has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for nine years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She’s the mother of a teenage daughter and a 7-year-old West Highland Terrier, and can’t imagine life without them or music. Valerie wakes up with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.
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