I met Nate last year when he visited Alyssa at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. Nate has been a friend of the Alvin family for many years. He attended Geneva schools with Vince, Alyssa’s older brother, and was like another ‘big brother’ figure to Alyssa.
While he visited Alyssa, Nate was also going through his own battle against cancer. I had a blog post prepared for the benefit concert with pieces of quotes from Nate’s speech, but upon reading what I wrote today, I immediately decided against sharing what I wrote in order to give you Nate’s story in its purest form. Instead, I will share news about the benefit concert in the first issue of our newsletter, which will be published this Sunday.
We were so excited and happy that Nate wanted to be a guest speaker at our first benefit concert. Nate’s story is a small part of a grand narrative, which includes Alyssa’s story, Kloe’s story (our first gift recipient was unable to attend the concert and receive her gift but we’ll deliver it to her at the hospital when she’s feeling better), and the thousands of people around the world affected by cancer.
To me, sharing the stories of cancer patients is the most important thing. Nate’s continuing experience battling cancer and how music has been helping him along the way was truly inspiring to hear. I am a storyteller at heart, but nothing I say or write can paint a more perfect picture.
Here it is…Nate’s unedited speech on April 18, 2015 at our first benefit concert:
“In middle school we took psychology tests to find out what kind of learners we were. I usually turned up as an auditory one. I guess that kinda makes sense given my musical background. I assumed it meant I favored an acoustic explanation when learning something new. I never put too much stock in what a questionnaire said about me personally, but I found out it was true when faced with a real test.
When you're diagnosed with cancer, you are forced to make life-altering decisions in quick succession, without all the facts. I flew to Sloan Kettering in New York and M.D Anderson in Houston to make sure I had my game plan straight. The fastest two months of my life flew by as the medical elite proposed courses of action for the next nine to twelve months. I was lucky to find treatment close to home, and even more fortunate to share my story with you all.
The hard part comes when a plan is in action and you're sick of asking why. You've exhausted your friends, family, scripture and scientific sources and now you're left waiting by your phone for that important call you can't afford to miss. Maybe you're at work, even worse you're at home with nothing else to do. This is where music can help. This is where you need an emotional outlet.
The amount of waiting involved in a lengthy medical drama is unbearable. If you’re beholden to someone every step of the way you will be stuck watching the clock as the days and hours tick by. But there’s a chance someone in time and space has had a similar rite of passage as you. That person might have a story or song that has stood the test of time, to impact you, and give you some direction in which to march. You won’t know unless you are actively looking. See music for me is a powerful reminder that our emotions are so similar. That it doesn't matter how little our lives overlap. Your life and mine, up until now, may have few similarities. But I am confident the happiness you feel and the happiness I feel have uncanny similarities.
Music can do great things to your memories and dreams. Preserve details that a picture of you and your friends in a row may not accurately capture. Music can doctor your dreams after years have passed, allowing your to remember what angered you as a child, what embarrassed you as a teen, what made you laugh in college. All simultaneously, all too much to take in at once. The creation of music allows us then to explore and express our dreams and sorrows in a medium that people of all walks of life can tap into.
I was physically and emotionally isolated after my successful surgery and following months of chemotherapy. With my life no longer regimented by trusted advisors I was left to my own devices as far as how to reintegrate into society. Like a blank page that must be filled, this can be an exhilarating or terrifying prospective. With no one willing to offer up the “correct” solution anymore, an experimental mindset was necessary.
Music or any art form really gives so much flexibility to someone in a compromising scenario. Something that's very hard to come by for someone backed into a corner. It's something that can speak to you irrespective of how reclusive or open you are about your journey. Such a powerful tool should not be denied, shouldn't be called a tool even, it sounds reductive. Why don't we call it a respite? A break. Something again you don't get when your life is on the line. When you have medical deadlines for yourself to meet. When the limitation of your physical body overwhelms your senses, you must rely on your dreams.
You know maybe I'm biased growing up with a musical background, my mom sang a bit and I think it's growing on my dad too. The important part is that my journey to find this emotional tether to mankind was well underway before I was faced with cancer. I found my sanctuary in music. Now maybe music doesn't do it for you, that's no problem. Because there's never a bad time to start your quest in finding your emotional outlet. It doesn't matter what it is, the matter of searching it out can be enough sometimes. Maybe you don't need it, perhaps you never will. But in case you do, or a loved one does, it's your trump card.
Now if we take this appreciation for art one step forward, and talk about the creation of it, then you have a self-sustaining positive force. I know it’s vague, but it’s important to underline how essential this is to the healing process. Your friends and family will cheer you on, make no mistake. But eventually it needs to come from within you. You yourself have to believe you can do this. You have to believe you can get through the next hour, the next minute.
The act of creation is a life affirming action. And I'm not asking you to set out to create a masterpiece. I'm asking you to find a way to create something you are proud of. Even temporarily. Maybe you'll look back and it'll be a joke to you, but the important part, is that for a brief moment in your life, you appreciated yourself. You had the mindfulness to acknowledge you can do some good for yourself, when it seems nothing is going your way. For this reason, putting an instrument in the hands of a child who is suffering can be a seismic shift. Giving an adolescent a means of communication beyond verbal may be the answer they need. It doesn't' need to be the solution, simply a catalyst as this child discovers nonverbal ways to transmit emotion in a way his or her family can appreciate. That he or she can create his or her own method of pushing through the pain and embracing what lies ahead.
And for this reason I applaud the efforts of the Alyssa Alvin Foundation for Hope. Because I certainly would not have hope if were not for music.”
Thank you Nate for reinforcing our mission to give the gift of music and art to cancer patients. We’re always here for you during your journey and we really appreciate that you were there to support Alyssa and her family when they needed it the most. Thank you helping us spread a message of Hope.
Want to help? Please visit the links below.
To donate funds, musical instruments, and art supplies:
To attend our upcoming events: