Standing side-by-side in the recording studio, song sheets in hand, nearly 50 singers were linked by more than the melody flowing from their lips.
All the women – and one man – have had breast cancer.
They recently were brought together by Laura Fial, vocalist and founder of the Rockin’ Docs, a band comprising physicians who perform at charity events.
Fial was diagnosed with breast cancer in February. After having what she calls a “pity party” for herself, she went to work on a demonstration compact disc, to showcase her voice for possible jobs.
She says the demo was “something that I had been putting off and putting off, and I finally did it because when you’re diagnosed with a disease like this, you don’t know if tomorrow is tomorrow.”
Late one night during her treatment, as she lay awake, she thought “of a ‘We Are the World’ scenario, “where we have all of these women joining in song, a song written about survival,” Fial recalls.
In August, she began planning to record “Breast Cancer CD 2000: Soothing the Soul and Encouraging the Spirit,” a fund-raising project to benefit the Arizona Institute of Breast Health and the Y-Me Breast Cancer Network of Arizona.
Fial made phone calls and sent e-mail to garner support for her idea, contacting, among others, celebrities Olivia Newton-John and Carly Simon, both of whom have had breast cancer. She recruited a songwriting team and musicians, and called breast-cancer support groups and agencies in search of patients and survivors to join in two songs.
The recording project provided a built-in “support system” as she continued her course of treatment.
“Music is my therapy,” she says.
At the time Fial was diagnosed, she was teaching music at El Dorado private schools. Before that, she had worked in marketing for 11 years.
“When I saw this group of women (in the studio), all I could think of is I wanted to cry because this is something I had envisioned in the middle of the night,” she says. “When I saw it coming together like this, I thought that was incredible.”Following a recent rehearsal in Fial’s home, singers and musicians came together Nov. 16 at Porcupine Studios in Chandler for the first recording session.
Fial lives in Scottsdale with her husband Fred and daughter Heather, 10.
A notice Fial had placed in a local newspaper attracted Edie Pernick-Gold of Scottsdale, diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago, to the project.
“I love to sing so this is what I wanted to do,” Pernick-Gold says. The rehearsal was “invigorating.”
“Especially when (the lyric) says, ‘We are alive.’ …We never know. I go from one mammogram to the next and I never know from year to year if I’m going to be OK.”
Pernick-Gold says the worst part of her diagnosis was the phone call from her doctor’s office after her mammogram, telling her she needed to return that week for a second one.
At that point, “everything changed,” she says.
Her advice for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer is to “do all the research you can do. Look at all your options. Be your own best advocate.”
She said her original surgeon, who removed the lump, told her that she should have a mastectomy. After receiving second opinions and doing a great deal of research, she opted instead for a lumpectomy.
“Be armed so you can make a very, very wise decision for yourself that you can live with,” she advises.
Pernick-Gold wants spouses and family members of breast-cancer patients to know it’s important they be very supportive.
“The man in my life at the time was incredibly supportive. That helps so much … women worry so (much) about any change in their body.”
A woman’s experience with breast cancer often takes away self-esteem and a sense of femininity, says Leah Polasik, who was diagnosed with the disease in September 1999.
In June 2000, she enrolled in a belly-dancing class and found that it “helped give me strength and flexibility and increased my stamina and sense of femininity.”
Polasik now performs as Suraleah, the Hebrew name her parents gave her at birth, with Egyptian Cartouche, a modern Middle-Eastern dance troupe in Tempe whose members combine belly-dance movements of the past with contemporary dance technique.
The promo for “Breast Cancer CD 2000: Soothing the Soul and Encouraging the Spirit,” will feature five songs: “Rest in Yourself,” written by guitarist Scott Parsons, and “You’ve Got a Friend” – both sung by breast cancer survivors; “Christine’s Gift,” an instrumental by Parsons; “The Water is Wide,” a traditional folk song featuring Fial, guitarist Kenn Harris, guitarist and vocalist Rich Dobrusin and violinist David Shoup; and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” sung by Fial and accompanied by Michael Alexander on piano.
“Sarrah Mahove,” an original guitar instrumental Harris wrote specifically for the compact disc, is expected also to be included on the finished project.
Harris is a West Valley neurologist who met Fial through the Rockin’ Docs.
“Sarrah mahove, in biblical poetic Hebrew, means ‘to have overcome, lived through and then strengthened by a great pain or sorrow or ordeal,’ ” he says.
Fial hopes to release the promo this month to “get it out before the holidays” and to produce a compact disc with additional tracks in January.
While orchestrated by Fial, the compact disc is a shared effort. Musicians and singers donated their time; Living Head Audio Recording in Phoenix is recording the CD; Porcupine Studios in Chandler donated rehearsal space; D & J Studios in Tempe donated studio time; Coyote Moon Marketing is handling publicity; K-Video is producing a free promotional video and Basha’s donated lunch at the rehearsal.”The goal is every year to do a breast-cancer CD and to release it in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness month,” she says.
The compact disc will be sold at Israel Connection in Phoenix and The Jewish Quarter in Scottsdale, as well as at various gift shops and doctors’ offices.
This article first appeared in the Dec. 1, 2000 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.