Sunday afternoon Bob Crespo & The Big Spenders play a live gig, always a joyful time for the band and hopefully for our audience. Sunday, however, will be a very special show. We will be playing for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in a benefit to raise money for breast cancer research, treatment, and awareness. Breast cancer is a disease that takes the lives of over 40,000 women every year in the United States out of 185,000 stricken with it. Our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our grannies, our cousins and aunts and dear friends. Cancer is a cruel and debilitating disease and everyone reading this has lost somebody to this horrible sickness and known people who have survived it only by going through a special hell.

As for myself, I’m playing for my niece Elaina, a breast cancer survivor, the only child of two of my best and oldest friends and my wife Louise’s Goddaughter. Her mother is my wife’s sister Susan, who stood by her daughter when she got the news with the fierce love of a mother and the heart of a lioness. Her ex-husband Greg is Elaina’s father and she was the light of her Godfather Michael, Greg’s younger brother who was lost to us way too young, at only 35. Greg and Susan married as youngsters and like most kid marriages it didn’t work out, but what did work out spectacularly was Elaina, one of the liveliest, smartest, strongest and half loony human beings you’d ever be lucky enough to know. She’s a walking, talking good time and great company.

A little over 2 years ago she came to New York from where she lives in Florida to say goodbye to her father, who was losing his years-long battle with cancer, battling the demon with laughter and defiance like the joyful madman he always was. Elaina rarely left his side at the hospital for the last few weeks of her father’s life, feeding him what he could hold down, washing him, keeping him company, holding his hand, comforting his parents and small stepson. When his time came, she was there, and all during the funeral she was an amazing presence. She insisted on celebrating Greg’s life, for he was a lover of life and living. Hundreds of people came to the wake, many flying in from all over the country to say goodbye to a special man.  

For two days she greeted and comforted her father’s friends and family, then fed them afterward at her grandparents’ house, somehow holding herself together right through to his burial. It was during this ordeal that she felt something in her own body, a lump in one of her breasts. So when she got home to Florida she had herself examined, and sure enough, it was The Beast, come to torment her this time. So she flew back to New York and consulted with the doctors in Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital, who assured her that the treatment in Florida was exactly what they would do. She had just gone through this routine with her father and knew exactly what questions to ask, and what were her options. 

And so began her own journey into hell. Her options were not good and she began the chemotherapy and radiation that wracked her with pain, cost her her hair, and severely injured her body. All the while she continued to run her restaurant, being a trained chef and a natural people magnet, never showing the world her agony. Her mother would drive her 3 hours to her treatments and she would come back physically devastated, but always bounced back in a day or two. This went on for months and Elaina never flinched, never sought anyone’s pity or fell into the “why me?” mode. She fought back hard, laughing in death’s face and defying The Beast to change her spirit. 

She drew strength from her mother and stepfather Victor, her four grandparents, her many aunts, uncles and cousins. If the phone rang at 2 A.M. in my house, I figured Louise and Elaina to be good to yack until dawn, so I sent my love and got out of the way of the immense healing power of female bonding and went to bed. Love is the best companion to an ailing body and Elaina is lucky enough to have so many people in her life eager to shower her with theirs. And in truth, she had a lot of love in the bank that she herself had generated in her short life, and now it was time to collect. There is a reason for everything in this life it seems, and when she needed it most, the electric, love-inducing burst of life that is Elaina had earned a ton of interest on the love she generated. 

And that was all that we could do, pour out our love and support, since we are helpless in the face of cancer. There is an impotent rage that fills us when a loved one is stricken. And so there is all the more reason to fight cancer with all we’ve got. Elaina is alive and well and whole today, one of the lucky ones, and for a lot of reasons besides her powerful character and all the love and support she was shown. First, she was educated about the disease, and her self-examination detected the lump. Second, she acted swiftly and without hesitation to get the best medical help she possibly could. And thirdly, the doctors today have more and better tools for fighting cancer every year, and the earlier any cancer is detected, the better are one’s chances of surviving. 

Unfortunately, so very many aren’t as lucky as Elaina. The least the rest of us can do is try to give what we can for research, treatment and, just as importantly, education to promote cancer awareness. Knowing the enemy is vital, and knowing your medical options and the inherent risks involved in each of them is important. Knowledge is power. Unfortunately for more than 40,000 women every year, these weapons and our limited knowledge are not enough and we must move towards a cure. Maybe someday those 40,000 deep and wide rivers of love and life and wisdom that are our sisters won’t be lost to us forever. Until then, we do what we can. The only thing I have to offer is my music and the ability to make crowds of people aware of women like Elaina. Sunday afternoon, (see the ad above for the details) The Big Spenders will be playing our hearts out for Elaina and thanking God she is still among us, just as beautiful, just an joyful, smart, funny, loving, strong and just as nuts as she always was. Elaina, this show is for you, sweets.

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