The month of October is designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month across the world. In the United States alone, 220,000 women are diagnosed with the deadly disease every year, and about 20 percent of them lose the battle and die. Though it’s rare, men too become victims of breast cancer.
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was founded in the U.S. in 1985 by the American Cancer Society and the manufacturers of anti-breast cancer drugs. The purpose was to promote mammography as the most effective weapon against breast cancer and to spread the message that breast cancer is beatable.
Today, there is much information about the disease that attacks mostly women 50 years or older, including treatment options and statistics. But when I first heard of “breast cancer” six decades ago as a child living in Korea, the two words were whispered only among women, though other diseases such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, cholera and diabetes were discussed publicly.
My aunt — my father’s older sister who had been a virgin by choice and devoted her entire life to her church — suffered alone only God knows how long before we knew she was dying. She was 47 years old. And even if she had told her family members about the disease at its early stage, probably doctors could not have saved her either, because back in those days all cancers were considered an incurable disease.
One of our local hospitals, St. Joseph Medical Center in the south Kansas City, has a strong breast cancer prevention and treatment program. While browsing through its website, I came across a notice about Joy Zimmerman’s concert on Thursday (6 p.m. at Alex George Auditorium at the hospital, St. 1000 Carondelet Drive, Kansas City) to promote the messages of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and to educate her audience about the disease with her music and stories.
Joy has been conducting workshops at health facilities in the Kansas City area, including Turning Point: The Center for Hope and Healing, Children’s Mercy Hospital and the Kansas City Rehabilitation Institute.
My first impression of Joy when we met for the first time at a coffee shop one morning was that her name “Joy” fits her. She walked in with joy in her stride, her eyes twinkled with joy when she introduced herself to me, and while talking, she shared with me her joy of what she does as a social worker, a singer, a violinist and guitarist, as well as a songwriter.
What prompted her to give a concert for Breast Cancer Awareness Month at St. Joseph Medical Center?
“My mom has survived breast cancer twice, which is one of the reasons I strongly support efforts to combat this disease,” she explained. “Music is a powerful tool in coping with the symptoms of illness — stress, depression, mood swings, low energy and more. And music can heal!”
Joy grew up in St. Louis where her mother took her to Suzuki violin lessons, a method developed in Japan to teach small children to play violin. In college, she majored in social work and minored in music. After graduation, her social work career has included working with grieving families, adults and children with chronic illnesses, and at-risk teenagers. About eight years ago, she began learning to play guitar and discovered that she could write songs and sing solo, too. She joined a band and began performing, and realized that she could use her gift of music in her work.
Was writing songs easy for her?
She laughed. “At first, I get a nugget of an idea, and as I play with it in my mind, words come and melodies follow. It takes time as song takes shape. Some of my songs express the human emotions that I have been experiencing as a social worker. Music can touch the very core of your being.”
Is helping those who’re going through difficulties her lifetime goal?
Yes, she said without hesitation, handing me a few printed pages of lyrics of her songs, which she said she will use on during her concert.
The first one caught my attention:
You shoulder a heavy load, set it down
The pressure that weighs on you, set it down
The struggle that rages inside…
Come rest a while with me….
Let me share the burden, set it down
If it becomes a flood…
I will ride the waves with you…
Come rest a while with me…
Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history.