In the fall of 2012, eight years after I joined the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that is treatable, but not yet curable. Some specialists we saw gave me two to three years, but Brian Berryman, MD, an oncologist on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, gave me incredible hope.
He told me he thought I could be in his office in 10 years, and who knows what type of treatments and possible cures we might have at that point? That was huge to have a facility like the Baylor A. Charles Sammons Cancer Center and a doctor who believes in you.
Striking Blows Against Cancer
My wife and I did our due diligence in researching the best place to go for treatment. We visited five other cancer centers and ultimately decided to stay where we started — at Baylor Scott & White Health, with Dr. Berryman as my personal oncologist. It’s probably the best decision I ever made in my life.
There has been a lot to overcome, but every patient has to do that. I plan to send Christmas cards to all those doctors at those other facilities to remind them I’m still here.
Six months later, I went in for a stem cell transplant, then directly onto maintenance therapy. That meant chemotherapy, by infusion and by pills, to keep the myeloma in remission. Luckily, it has turned out really well.
In late April, we found that some cancer cells have returned — which technically is called a ‘relapse’ — but the doctors at Baylor Scott & White caught it so early that it hasn’t had a chance to manifest itself. So the system worked. We are switching up my maintenance program with a new pill that wasn’t even on the market when I was diagnosed.
This also shows that the purpose of our foundation is working — we’re getting new and improved medicines all the time. I’m so proud that the Ryan Anthony Foundation has raised more than $1 million for cancer research to date.
The Birth of Cancer Blows
The week before my stem cell transplant, Doc Severinsen (like I have to tell you, the fabulous trumpet player and Johnny Carson’s bandleader) was on the phone wishing me good luck. We really didn’t know how it would turn out, and he said he wished there was something he could do to help.
“Promise me we can share the stage together someday,” I said.
That became my battle cry to everybody who called me. All I wanted to know was that I could stand on stage again with some of my trumpet idols. Maybe they were just being nice, but they said absolutely.
A few days after the transplant, I was dreaming what if everybody had a free day and we all got together and did a big concert to raise awareness and raise money for cancer research?
“Yeah, and you can call it ‘Cancer Blows,'” my wife Niki said.
We laughed, then we thought, that’s brilliant.
The first concert was two years ago at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, with Doc and a couple dozen more amazing players all donating their time. Since then, the foundation has organized about a half-dozen events around the country each year, some with me and some without.
I look down the lineup and it’s impossible not be moved that so many great musicians want to do something with their gift and their talent. It’s so gratifying to be able to do these things, not just to make music or to make people feel good now, but to impact the future in a positive way. It gives me a whole other gear to keep going.
It’s amazing to see what the power of music can do. Maybe this is just a drop in the bucket in the cancer fight, but at some point, that drop is going to be the tipping point. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve literally been given a stage to make some noise, and that’s exactly what I plan to keep on doing.
Visit Cancer Blows for more information about the Ryan Anthony Foundation and Cancer Blows events near you.