For SHSU Music Therapy Student
It's Something to Sing About
Kathleen Brown is a breast cancer survivor; a woman with an incredible voice who, while strolling through death's shadow, found something to sing about.
"If there's a glimmer of hope you've got to try," goes one of two songs she performs regularly at breast cancer rallies across the U.S. "There's a million reasons why, you've got to try. "
Five major surgeries in one year to eradicate breast cancer have failed to dim the sparkle in Brown's eyes or silence this 50-year-old singer's melodious voice. But from her terrifying experience, including two radical mastectomies and a horrific six-month chemotherapy ordeal, she emerged a profoundly changed woman.
"It has turned my life around," said Brown, who is currently living in Huntsville while studying music therapy at Sam Houston State University. "I have embarked on a whole new life and a whole new way of living."
That new life includes carrying a message of hope in the face of adversity to the burgeoning sisterhood of breast cancer sufferers around the world. It's a message, carried in two songs, written as a gift for Brown when the professional singer was recovering from her first mastectomy in a Florida hospital.
The songs, "The Race" and "A Million Reasons Why," written by friend Sharon Conway, tell a personal story of Brown's coming to terms with her disease. The lyrics address her disbelief, fear, and ultimately her acceptance and determination to fight. They are heartfelt songs that strike a familiar chord in the lives of women fighting their own cancer battles.
"When I heard the news, my hands began to shake. / 'No, this could not be true. There must be some mistake,'" "The Race" begins with tearful dismay. But the song concludes triumphantly, "I'm gonna run the race until it's over. / All bets are off tonight. I'm gonna fight the fight / Make no mistake. I'm gonna run the race."
"The first time Sharon played the song for me, I just sat there and cried because it was so touching," Brown recalled.
Now two years and a second mastectomy later, Brown, whose cancer has been in remission for over a year, is still "running the race." As an official spokesperson for the American Cancer Society, she has performed her anthems of hope at musical venues and breast cancer awareness rallies across the nation.
She has also teamed up with two other talented breast cancer survivors to produce and star in a 30-minute show, "Breast Cancer and the Arts." In the show, the three artists express their experience with the disease through dance, photography and song.
On May 4, Brown will perform her song, "The Race," at Royal Albert Hall in London as part of the Royal Charity Gala benefiting the United Kingdom's Cancer Research Campaign. Attending the star-studded fund-raiser will be the Duke of Gloucester, CRC president.
For Brown, who has sung mostly in up-scale night clubs throughout her professional career, the Royal Albert Hall performance will realize her lifelong dream to perform on a grand stage.
Albert Hall, she said, is the British equivalent of the United States' own Carnegie Hall. Few stages are much grander than that.
Keeping in step with her new-found mission of spreading hope, Brown has also embarked on a new career track. At age 50, she is one of a handful of non-traditional students gracing Sam Houston State University's distinguished music therapy program. Building on a music education degree she earned in 1981, Brown is pursuing certification as a music therapist and plans to eventually work with children suffering from cancer.
Music therapists use music as tool to effect positive changes in individuals suffering form health, social or educational problems.
"Music has given me a way of helping others, of voicing what they are thinking and feeling," she said. "I have always been able to put myself into the words of a song and get my feelings across to others."
The idea to pursue a career in music therapy first struck Brown when she heard a presentation from a noted music therapist during a cancer survivorship conference in Miami, just prior to her second surgery. At the time, she and her husband Rayford, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, were living in Key Largo.
"I came out of that meeting," Brown remembered, "and I said 'I've got to do that.'"
Later, when the Browns decided to move to Texas, locating a quality music therapy program was a top priority.
Mary Ann Nolteriek, founding director of the 14-year-old music therapy program at SHSU remembers Brown's telephone interview as a unique moment. After detailing her background as a musician and as a cancer survivor, Brown asked Nolteriek, "May I sing for you?"
"I had never been asked this over the phone before during an interview," Nolteriek recalled. "I was taken aback, but of course, I conceded."
Brown began singing "The Race," and Nolteriek was deeply moved.
"It was fascinating to hear her voice because I heard so much about Kathleen when I heard her sing," Nolteriek said. "From every fiber of her body, she means every word in that song."
Now in her second semester at SHSU, Brown said she is extremely pleased with her decision to study under Nolteriek. But no one is as pleased as Nolteriek herself.
"She has been an asset. Her perspectives on life are so different from all of ours. I think she has really broadened how we look at things," Nolteriek said. "She just exudes positivity. Nothing gets her down. She lives for the music and that's when she really comes alive, when she is sharing her music."
Kathleen Brown sings "The Race" at a breast cancer rally in Plano.
Media Contact: Phillip Rollfing
April 24, 1998