Wednesday, December 2, 2009

welcome to the new website

welcome, take a look around. I'll be posting now and again to give information about comings and goings and some thoughts about life.

The new cd which is titled 'Yonder Shore' is rolling right along. I'll be recording 3 new piano pieces next, 'Mother of Beauty,' a new vocal I've written accompanied by piano which is a first. A flamenco piano solo, 'La Ruisenor,' or the 'Nightingale' in the style of a soleares and a 16th century French Canadian folk song, 'L'amour de Moy,' which I first heard on a Hank Jones and Charlie Haden album, 'Steal Away' and which Paul Robeson recorded on an album entitled 'Live Performance at The Royal Albert Hall' August 10, 1958.

You can hear longer demo versions of a couple of the songs at the sonicbids electronic press kit,
* 'Lakes of Pontchartrain,' featuring my friend Lyn ‘Unihipili Hilliard playing Hawaiian slack key & 12 string guitar,
* 'Yonder Shore,' the title song
* 'Lovely Little Marley'
* 'Dusk & Dawn'

Learning to Live in the Moment

Here is an account of my experience as a caregiver which was posted on The American Cancer Society's page 'Stories of Hope,' 'Survivor Teaches Partner to Live in the Moment'

The key …is to live and be in the moment. Don't jump ahead, don't wish that this wasn't happening.

Jim Murdoch, a music therapist at UCSF/Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco, calls himself a Pied Piper.

"I …basically just go from room to room with a small accordion and knock on peoples' doors and ask them if they would like some music," he said.

The music draws them out, he said, and gets them to talk about their feelings about their illness.

In July 1999, while playing polkas for an older gentleman, Murdoch saw the sign on the door of the next room: "do not disturb."

But, behind the sign someone was listening. Michelle "Mimi" Marsh, 46, diagnosed at the beginning of the month with stage IIIC ovarian cancer, was recuperating from an 11-hour surgery.

Mimi later told Murdoch she wondered, "How come nobody is coming in to play music for me?"

They met the next week. "When I came in, she was walking down the hall with her IV pole, so I asked her if she wanted to hear some music," he said.

"I knew if I came back to play for her … we would probably end up staying in touch with each other," said Murdoch.

And that's what happened. After her first chemotherapy treatment (high-dose
taxol-carboplatin), he suggested they have lunch. It became a routine. "We'd go to the treatments and then go out and have lunch, and gradually we just fell in love."

In the fall of 1999, Murdoch joined a support group for partners of women who have cancer. "I thought I should just go and see where I'm at with all this and what this is about," he said. "And that was tremendously helpful."

Caregiver Finds The Way

"One of the gentlemen [in the group] said the key …is to live and be in the moment," Murdoch said. Don't jump ahead, don't wish that this wasn't happening. And I think to me, that was the main thing about being a caregiver, just to be with the person.

"And the power of it is, you're going through it together, and that she doesn't have to go through it by herself," he said.

Mimi finished her first six cycles of chemotherapy in November 1999, but after the last cycle, her tumor marker, ca 125, went above normal, and the CT scans showed a suspicious mass. It turned out to be fatty tissue, and all 18 biopsies were normal.

"No more cancer, " said Murdoch. "Hooray!"

Mimi's second line of chemotherapy, topotecan, was finished in May 2000. For the next 10 months, Mimi was free of cancer — no more treatments, no sign of disease.

In January 2001, Mimi returned to work at a Bay area hospital. She was a pediatric neonatal ICU nurse, and cared for premature babies.

But in March, her doctors found a brain tumor.

"For me," Murdoch said, that was "the worst. It was sadder even than the day she died. She'd been doing so well, working, exercising, taking painting classes, really starting to put her life back together.

"Now there was so much uncertainty — was there already more cancer in her body? What could they do for treatment?" he asked.

Facing Frustration And The Unknown

"It was a pretty grim day," Murdoch said as he recalled the moments after they were told. "So I asked her, what would you like to do? You know, maybe you want to go back up to your house, or come over to my house, or get something to eat? And her response was, 'are there any thrift stores around here?'"

"That was one of her main passions," said Murdoch, "to go to garage sales and flea markets and thrift stores."

"So we spent about three hours in this thrift store that was just a few blocks away, you know, buying clothes and just looking at everything. And then we went out and had this wonderful Italian dinner."

Mimi had successful brain surgery in April, but in June, pelvic area scans showed a dozen new tumors about an inch in diameter, he said. Mimi underwent another round of chemotherapy — two treatments with Doxil (doxorubicin) in June and July.

Then scans in August showed the tumors had spread rapidly to her kidneys, spleen, pancreas, stomach, colon, and bladder.

"Probably up until we got the news [that the cancer had spread], we were still optimistic that they would be able to control it," Murdoch said. "And even in spite of the progression, it was like, well, there are still a few things we can do, and we'll…do those," he said. "And we'll just see how it goes, and continue to live as much as possible."

In August 2001, hospice began providing services for Mimi at home.

"And I think even in September…the hospice nurse said, 'she probably only has two months to live,'" he said. "And that kind of surprised me because…whatever it was that we were doing — cooking food, having visitors come over, it was let's just be in the present, this is what we're doing," said Murdoch, who was her primary caregiver.

"I would never give up," he said. "It became, if she wasn't going to recover, if she wasn't going to survive, she's here, right now, and I'm going to make her breakfast, I'm going to make her a sandwich, and then you know, deal with whatever's going on right now."

"And I think that made it much easier for me because I was so involved in the process — I never felt like I was taking care of a sick person. She was dealing with a life-threatening illness, but we stuck together on our journey down life's path, no matter what," he said.

A Life Lived Fully

"There were times we had a lot of doctors appointments, but then we'd go out and have fun at thrift stores, at the beach, cooking together, or going out to eat, with a much greater appreciation and love for life and for each other."

During this time, Murdoch came to know an older couple at a senior center where he also was a music therapist.

"They were both in their 80s; they'd been married for 60 years. I thought, 'Mimi and I are probably not going to get to this point.' And then I realized, we did it in two and a half years. We had the full cycle of this relationship and nothing was left unsaid. We were able to talk about everything."

Mimi died on Oct. 20, just after her 49th birthday.

Murdoch still attends the support group. "That's been terrific," he said.
"You can never really be ready for someone to die, but you can be prepared in a sense."

"Part of being a caregiver is …really being a companion to the person, and that means the suffering that she went through, that was both of our suffering," he said. "And when that's over, that part of the suffering is over for me as well…It's a tremendous sense of relief that she s not suffering anymore," he said.

"Several of the men have thanked me for continuing to attend and be a role model for them in how to go through this process," he said. "I've learned a tremendous amount from others and giving back has been an important part of the healing process."

Post script... in 2005 Jim was hired to be the facilitator for the UCSF men's support group.