Singing My Way Through The Cancer, The Darkness, The Fear

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When I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma I felt nothing; silence and paralysis took over. In the midst of my anguish, I turned to God for help. The help was not at all what I would have imagined.

The thought came to me that I should sing. This was ridiculous! I was a general manager at Con Edison in New York City and all my energy was focused on my career. The idea of singing when I was trying to deal with cancer seemed nonsensical, yet I pursued it. I asked friends for names. Some days I had appointments for medical tests; and on others, I went to see singing teachers. I really had no idea what I was doing, just put one foot in front of the other and moved. The path led to Alan Turry, a music therapist in my neighborhood. Music therapist? I was looking for a singing teacher.

The first time we met, Alan explained that we’d be improvising and that in improvisation there were no mistakes. He encouraged me to feel free to vocalize and play any of the many instruments he had. I picked up a drum, then some bells, and started giggling while Alan played piano. I hadn’t laughed since the diagnosis, so it seemed that this (whatever it was) might be good for me. I quickly saw that he meant what he said--I couldn’t make a mistake in this process. What a liberating experience! I decided to come back

The next time we met, I sang about being afraid of the doctors and of treatment. Lyrics about the despair, sadness and silence of my life poured out of me in subsequent sessions. I was going beyond my cancer to my lifelong depression and my own oppression. Somehow, I was able to voice my feelings in a way that I had never done in my life.

When I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma I felt nothing; silence and paralysis took over


In the meantime, my main focus was on the opinions I was getting from the doctors. Yes, I did have a stage four lymphoma, not curable, but highly treatable. Fearful, hoping that someone would give me a contrary opinion, I went to see six oncologists. In the final analysis, they all agreed I needed chemotherapy. I dreaded it. As I was preparing to start treatment, the results of a second C/T scan indicated that my lymph nodes had shrunk somewhat. This led eventually to a “spontaneous partial remission.” The oncologist has made it clear that I will need treatment at some point. As I continue in this “watch and wait” phase, I am grateful that I have not yet had to go for chemotherapy.

A month or so after I started working with Alan, I met Janet Savage, a soulful, passionate woman and singer. She and I worked on my voice. Sometimes we improvised, and sometimes we did singing exercises.

While working in my living room one Saturday afternoon, I played tapes from some of the sessions with Alan for her. My friends who had heard the tapes were often moved to tears, so I was not surprised when tears came to Janet’s eyes. However, her comment, unlike anyone else’s, changed my life.

"These are songs," she said.

I was astonished when she suggested that I perform for a gathering of my friends. Despite the attacks of my inner critic, I pushed ahead, trusting Janet. She treated me like a singer. We culled the best from the tapes, and she coached me, helping me to put together a program, which we rehearsed with Alan. I rented a piano. The concert for my friends on November 12, 1995 was the happiest day of my life.

Over time I worked with several musicians who helped me to improve my skills as a singer and musician. Jon Cowherd, a gifted jazz pianist, composer and arranger, not only rehearses with me but listens to the music therapy improvisations, transcribes and arranges them into songs.

Music made it possible for me to go into my hunger, my fear, and my anguish. I have taken a journey deep into my underworld and I have come back changed.


I know now what I could never have seen initially: how perfect this solution is for me. I asked God for help. He knew that my lifelong anguish was about silence and oppression. What could make me feel better in the face of crushing pain and silence? UTTERANCE.

So he led me to music. Why music? Because music reaches me so deeply. Music made it possible for me to go into my hunger, my fear, and my anguish. I have taken a journey deep into my underworld and I have come back changed.

I found my life at last.

Maria Logis

New York City, March 2002


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