Kathleen Ferrier – a talent taken by Breast Cancer

Today I want to remember the fantastic voice of an earlier time, who sang about the tragedy of losing someone you love. What is life, What is life when you are dead?  These are the sentiments which drive hundreds of thousands of men, women and children to run and walk together, light candles, post remarks on social media sites, take up fresh sporting challenges, dress in pink for a day, drink varied quality and quanitities of coffee at a Macmillan coffee morning, but most of all to find themselves crying as they remember the loss of a woman who was precious to them, lost through Breast Cancer.

And today (the 8th October)  is the anniversary 57 years ago of the loss of Kathleen Ferrier, a great contralto voice, who was plucked from the work of a telephone receptionist at the age of 25 – through entering a regional music competition in Carlisle whose numbers were less than our present day X factor but whose impact on her life was nonetheless life changing. She was hailed as one of the finest voices that the Carlisle Journal had ever heard and she was soon to be recognised as a powerful talent by Conducter Sir Malcolm Sergeant who sent her to London to study under the baritone Roy Henderson. She was within the year singing the Messiah in Westminster Abbey and by 1946 making her debut on the operatic equivalent of the 02 stadium, Glyndebourne amd selling out Carnegie Hall in the states.

Kathleen Ferrier was my first female music hero. I remember playing her album of British folk songs endlessly on my single box hi fi, the diamond needle etching its way through the grooves which brought her spirit and vibrattoed emotion into my bedroom and life.  Blow the Wind Southerly is her eponymous theme tune for many, along with Drink to me only with thine eyes. I was 16 years old when I stood before my first audience at school and sang the melody informed as much as Lady Ga Ga or Madonna serves for contemporary x factor wannabes. She had been dead for two decades – but her sound was one that informed my musical soundscape with passion, yearning for an enduring relationship and emotional connection.

Like Kylie Minogue and Olivia Newton John,  Breast cancer struck early the Lancashire born Kathleen who had become by her mid thirties the From Lancashire to Londoncontralto muse for several British composers including Lennox Berkely, Arthur Bliss and Edmund Rubbra. Benjamim Britten wrote for her the part of Lucretia in The Rape of Lucretia,  and a key role in Abraham and Isaac as well as a key section of  the Spring Symphony.

Breast Cancer in the nineteen fifties was hugely under-resourced in the field of early identification  and intervention and the prognosis for a cancerous tumour emerging in someone under 40 was very poor indeed. In 1953 Kathleen Ferrier appeared on stage with a new production at Covent Garden of Gluck’s powerful Orfeo ed Euridice. Sung in English the production was renamed Orpheus.  The opera included the haunting aria What is life to me without thee? – which has emerged as a staple for funerals, memorial services, and a soundscape for people to enter to remember those they love and death has separated from them. Ferrier’s rendition of the aria even without digital remastering makes the hairs of my nape stand to attention. Do take a listen.

During the second performance of this production Kathleen collapsed with a fractured thighbone undermined by the presence of a secondary tumour in her bones. Eight months later, this song would be held in her considerable fan base’s memory as she was cremated in Golders Green Crematorium – a long way from her natal Lancashire. At 41 a talent and spirit lost for those who loved her, and those who were enriched by her performances and the beauty of her voice.

The lyrics for the English production of Orpheus conducted by Sir John Barbirolli and sung on two occassions at Covent Garden are below and captured on utube in the following link What is Life recording

What is life to me without thee?
What is left if thou art dead?
What is life; life without thee?
What is life without my love?
What is left if thou art dead?

Eurydice! Eurydice!
Ah, hear me. Oh, answer! Oh answer!
Thy dear lord am I so faithful,
My dear lord am I, who loves thee,
Who doth love thee!

What is life to me without thee?
What is left if thou art dead?
What is life; life without thee?
What is life without my love?
What is left if thou art dead?

Eurydice! Eurydice!
In my dread anguish nought can aid me,
None can comfort.
Earth is cruel, heav’n is cold!

What is life to me without thee?
What is left if thou art dead?
What is life; life without thee?
What is left if thou art dead?
If thou art dead?
If thou art dead?”

I am left wondering firstly what are the songs which you remember if you are of the age where Kathleen’s songs were played on the radio, or the family Hi Fi or hummed by your mother when you were younger – and whether there is any energy out there to gather some of the British Isles folk songs first recorded by her before her brave trend was established of a ‘high art’ treatment of our folk heritage became more mainstreamed.

Kathleen Ferrier was one of the oneinninewomen who lost the fight. Thanks to the lobbying of some of our senior research campaign groups, and the increasing realisation of the health, social and emotional costs which the presence of invasive cancers in our population makes on all of our lives the rates of early detection and the treatment packages have improved beyond recognition. But there is still a long way to go. Blow the wind southerly, wearing Pink for rememberance and change, and lets keep our Bonny ones close and safe.

Posted in Art, Breast Cancer, Music, Pink funding initiatives, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Breast cancer awareness month

Today the 1st October 2010 is the start of Breast Cancer Awareness month and there are a number of cracking initiatives to get this month developing awareness amongst the general public, and women in particular about the devestating and wasteful effects of this disease which affects in the UK alone one in nine women at some point during their lives, and interenationally takes one woman’s life every 69 seconds. That is right 69 seconds. Long slow inhale, exhale. And so wasteful – but what can be done?

Here are three things I am going to undertake over the next month which will make a small difference, which if multiplied hundreds and indeed thousands of times would start to make a real difference to this killer disease, which even when it is cured can seriously undermine a woman’s health and her wider network of family and friends well being while it is being addressed. The social, psychological and physiological impact of the intervention required on cancers which include intrusive surgery, from lumpectomy to mastechtomy, the savaging of one’s immune system from chemotherapy, and the impact of radiotherapy are significant. The financial costs are not trivial. From diagnosis to the first all clear can take for those with an invasive cancer up to a year. Thank God for life, but a full year, and then for many the thought of living under a cloud of unknowing as when the cancer might stike again.

So here at the start of Breast cancer awareness month are my three things to do during this month to provoke a change.

October Action ONE
If you are not already undertaking regular breast self examinations then do so! It is estimated that seven out of ten discoveries of a non-benign tumour or growth emerges from a woman’s self examination and NOT from the yearly or biennial mammograms which are undertaken. It is never too early to learn how to undertake these and a good introduction to how to do these is on this utube link – If you have daughters, sisters or other women friends get them to take a look as well. It might just be a life saver for them in the future. breast self examination This video shows how to undertake a breast examination – which is something which is a skill that I have never been inducted into and so many of my female friends have never had clarified – so once you’ve finished this blog make a time to sit down and watch, and a quiet uninterrupted space to practice!

October Action TWO
So OK you’re going to get your own health checking TLC (Touch look check self examination) programme together. Great. But if there are one in nine women being affected by breast cancer at some point in their lives, there just have to be some women in at your work place, or your place of worship, in your neighbourhood, down your street or in your apartment block or in your wider family who have been affected, or will soon be affected.

Discovering that you have a tumour, whatever its stage or grade is a truly unnerving experience. The impact of undergoing treatment has huge emotional and psychological and in many cases economic costs as weeks turn into months of treatment and increasing disconnection from ones world of work and social interaction.

For those undergoing chemotherapy the withdrawal from the wider social whirl and interchange can have severe emotional impacts, and put enormous pressures on both the individual undergoing the treatment and their immediate families and households who are supporting a person through this physically profoundly challenging time.
So this October, why not connect with someone you are aware of who is undertaking their own battle with cancer. Pick up the phone, send a card, ask whether there is something practical that can be done? check out how cancer sufferers are being provided for at work with appropriate sick cover and assurance of re-engagement after the completion of their treatment, make that call and be the friend you want to be. Just be open to how your friend, neighbour or work colleague reacts. They set the agenda for how they would like your friendship and care to be expressed.

The journey through cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment is particular for each person who undergoes it. But connecting and being present for people who are undertaking it is SO important – so be part of the change, so that loneliness, depression and disconnection is kept to the minimum.

October Action THREE
The third area to address is public awareness of the importance to tackle all Cancers. Cancer need not be the silenced C word of fear and terror. It can be addressed through minimising risk, enabling early diagnosis and enhancing the methods of treating cancer which minimise the long term potentially negative impacts of some of the more gruesome consequences of the current regimens of chemotherapy on substantial and aggressive tumours.

Raising public awareness and the political will to make Cancer intervention a key health platform is vital. It has the potential to save thousands of lives in Britain annually and millions globally.

Oneinninewomen is concentrating on the key women’s cancer – Breast Cancer, and will be blogging on some of the women who over the last few decades in particular have lost their lives to this killer, and some of the terrific new initiatives for change.

Thankfully survival rates due to enhanced early detection rates, improved surgical intervention and laboratory testing and individual treatment planning have improved exponentially over the last two decades. But a huge amount remains to be done.

If you have a friend, a loved one, or a hero whose contribution and life has been cut short by breast cancer do post a comment here or let us know on our twitter feed. And join the social network movement for change on this Every 69 Seconds Breast Cancer Awareness Social media campaign.  A few clicks on your social networking site will increase awareness – and then to some of the tougher engagements.

To make the change – we need to Be the change. Breast Cancer charities encourage those wanting to raise public awareness to wear pink during October to provoke the conversations and awareness which needs to happen to improve people’s health outcomes and chances as Cancer is faced down and the tables turned on this silent intruder. Making the C word into a word for checking (self examination), for care (looking out for your neighbours, colleagues, and friends) and for change (in awareness and treatment options) will make October a powerful month in the international movement to beat Cancer into the dread disease of the twentieth Century and refuse its place in the third millenium.

Happy wearing of the Pink this month and engaging in conversations which make a difference.  And remember TLC – Touch Look Check – and pick up that phone and be the difference. Every 69 seconds, makes you think, let’s be the change together.

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Pink funding initiatives, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to the oneinnine women blog

This is the oneininewomen blog spot where news, views, and general updates around the world of breast cancer research and policy first and foremost in the UK, but with attention being paid to breakthroughs internationally are commented on and posted. It also will serve as something of a journal for my personal walk through the corridors of cancer treatment from the shock of first diagnosis through the unfolding spiralling world of first surgical intervention, chemotherapeutic intervention and the unravelling carpet bag of further interventions which are put into play after the words – its a tumour and its quite lively are uttered.

I welcome your comments, and any posts which will facilitate the wider uptake of early detection, and the pursuit of new interventions to save the thousands of women who currently are suffering from cancer and recovering through the tough treatment of chemotherapy and surgical intervention. I look forward to your company and thank you for your accompanying.

Posted in Breast Cancer, My Breast Cancer log | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment