Between the Vocal Folds S1.E2: Singing with Cancer

Image of Kaitie Sly and Chrissy Lomax
Join Kaitie and singer-songwriter and cancer survivor, Chrissy Lomax, as they discuss how singing helped Chrissy through her battle with cancer.

Welcome to the second Episode of the Between the Vocal Folds podcast. Every episode features a new guest from the music industry to discuss any and all topics related to singing and the voice. This week’s guest is Chrissy Lomax, who is a singer/songwriter, pilates instructor, personal trainer, cancer survivor, and author of the recently published book, Another Interruption: My Journey Through HER2neu Positive Breast Cancer. This book takes you on a journey through Chrissy’s battle with breast cancer.

In tangent with the book, Chrissy also released a full-length album titled Another Interruption, with the song messages of hope, struggles, and healing. Chrissy’s hope with her book and album is that through her story, she can help others whose lives have come to a full stop because of this diagnosis.

Artists with Stacking Medical Bills

In your book, you described your life as a singer/songwriter as making it harder to pay your medical bills throughout your cancer treatment process. So, I’m wondering what advice you have for other artists or singers that may be facing a similar obstacle in their life?

Chrissy Lomax:
Okay. That is a really good question, because when I was diagnosed, it’s such a blow to you, and right away, the first thing I thought about was, “How much is this going to cost, all of this?” I was looking ahead at a year of treatment, and yes, I had medical insurance, but that doesn’t cover everything. There’s always something there. So, it was a little bit scary at first, and surprisingly, right away, angels started to show up.

In particular, one angel that I worked with at a Pilates studio, I’m an instructor, and she did not know me too well, and did not know that I have many years’ history of raising money for cancer research. She didn’t know that part, but she went ahead and she started a GoFundMe page, and that was incredible. It was uncomfortable at first, because here it was, it was out there, this picture of me asking for money, and it was really uncomfortable, but I had to keep my focus on getting through the journey and beating cancer. And I couldn’t have any stresses or financial worries weighing me down, and possibly getting in the way of my treatment and recovery. So, that happened.

And also, I couldn’t be too proud to look into grants that were offered to people in my situation, and so I started to do that. And what a difference it made to take that weight off of my shoulders. I received grants from three different areas that made a massive difference. It was unbelievable. I was able to not work for my whole year of treatment because I wasn’t afraid to ask, I wasn’t too proud to ask, and I had to make my priority fighting cancer. I’m getting through this. So, the finances got taken care of.

On Healthy Eating

So Chrissy, you mention also in your book, the importance of healthy eating in healing from cancer. You stated in your book, “Then I lived to eat. Now I eat to live.” At Singdaptive, some of our most popular courses are on vocal health. How much do you tie this healthy eating to your singing career?

Chrissy Lomax:
It’s completely tied in, because it’s our total body health. And being in the industry that I’ve been in for many years, in fitness and being a marathon coach, I’m telling you, the most important pillar in my marathon coaching and my training program is nutrition. If you want to make it to the finish line, you better be fueling your body properly. And what I learned over the years, I was a marathon coach for 16 years, and even longer as a weight loss coach, and what I learned is most people really are more concerned about the fuel they put in their car than the fuel they put in their body. And I noticed that a lot. And I did put good fuel in my body, healthy fuel always, just too much of it. You know?

So I got to a certain age, I started carrying some extra weight, which happens as we age sometimes and get slowed down a little bit. I just used food. I was a food user, just like somebody might use drugs, somebody might drink too much, I just used food. And so I whooped it up on the weekends from Friday to Monday, and then Monday morning, just pay the consequences and do the best I could through the rest of the week to get healthy again for the weekend.

So, as a marathon coach for 16 years, nutrition is so important to get to a finish line. And you do some running too, and some endurance training, right, Kaitie?

Yes. Yes, I do.

Chrissy Lomax:
Do you notice that if you really eat poorly for a couple of days before you go out there for a long one, or even drink alcohol or don’t set yourself up for success, that boy, it sucks. It sucks.

Kaitie Sly:
Oh yeah. For sure. Yeah. No, I don’t really drink at all anymore actually. And yeah, I’m pretty much always sticking to a pretty healthy diet.

Chrissy Lomax:
I’m so proud of you, because that’s what it takes. This is something we have control over, what we’re going to put in our bodies, right? And while we have that option and that gift of choice, before it could be taken away from you, kind of how it was for me for a year. All my choices, a lot of choices, were taken away from me. While we have the choice of what we can put in our bodies, we better make the best choices we can to make ourselves healthy.

So for singing, it makes a huge difference, because my whole body is healthier. When my body’s healthier, my mind, my spirit, my whole attitude is so much better. If I feel good in my own skin and I feel strong … And that’s another part of it as well is fitness, because it’s not just what you eat, it’s the way you treat your body as well. And I will say, the most important muscle groups you can have strengthened for a good voice and good breath is your powerhouse, your core.

And it’s so important to always incorporate breathing exercises. Not only to help us sometimes if we get a bit anxious, overwhelmed, worried, even we can’t sleep because we’re excited, breathing exercises are so valuable. And they also help us develop our lung capacity. We want to be able to hold that note to the end, and if we’ve just chowed down a three-course Italian dinner with a delicious dessert at the end, and then we go in there to try and sing? Forget it. You can’t hold that note. You might end up with some other sound effects that aren’t too pleasing, but you can’t breathe. Yeah.

And doing any kind of singing? Beforehand, I will not, for about two hours, three hours, will not eat. I will hydrate, but I would keep it nice and empty so that I have some great space for breathing. Yeah. If you’re going in for a session … This is something I also followed being a makeup artist as well. You know that the day before, even a couple of days before, if you know you have a session booked, just don’t eat heavily seasoned foods like with garlic and … You might be sharing a mic with somebody at times. It happens, and it’s not so pleasant, you know, heavy curries and garlic and onions. And boy, I have shared a mic with some people, and I know exactly what they ate last night, and it’s not the greatest thing.

On Using the Breath

Your comment about breathing earlier, that segues really nicely into the next question that I wanted to ask you, which is about meditation and acupuncture, which you talked about in your book as being an integral part in your healing process from cancer. Several of our Singdaptive instructors teach the importance of simple breathing exercises before performance or for handling any general stress. Do you recommend these activities for singers?

Chrissy Lomax:
All of the above help with your singing and your songwriting. And I was never able to do the meditation before, before cancer. I just wasn’t. It was 2017 when I was diagnosed with cancer and I was in treatment for a full year, and then in 2018, in September of 2018, when I finished treatment, I started writing my book. And during that time I kind of went in for a tune-up, and I kind of did that, and I went to my general practitioner, Dr. Ann, and I said, “Give me a tune-up.” And she booked everything to get everything examined inside and out.

And also, it was recommended by my oncologist to try acupuncture, so I did. And fortunately, UCLA, where I do go for my medical, they have an East-West center, and so I went in there for the acupuncture, and I met the main doctor, and he brought out a picture. And he showed me this picture that I still have. It was Chinese characters, and they represented the word stagnation. He said, “This picture represents cancer.” That stayed with me, Kaitie. Stagnation. And all I could think about …

Right now as I say it, I feel this hum going down through my chest, because all I could think about was, “Where was stagnation in my life?” Because when you’re diagnosed with something like cancer, you can’t help but wonder, “How did I get it? What did I do? What could I have done to avoid it?” Right? All those things. As much as your doctor says, “Don’t worry about that. Let’s fight it. You didn’t do anything wrong,” you still think, “I did something,” right?

So stagnation, and when I thought about that, the only area of my life that had stagnated was my music career. I have been a singer/songwriter since I can remember. I mean, I think I’ve told you this before. I picked up a guitar that was left at our house once. I thought I made up those chords. I was floored one day to find out that was called C, D minor, D. Yeah, I thought I made those chords up. They had names. And we lived in apartments and I would sit in the stairwells and I would just start singing.

This is what I always wanted to do was I was a singer/songwriter. Anywhere I went, my guitar went with me. I played songs wherever I could for anybody. I sang for other people. I wrote for other people. I started vocal coaching because I had this connection. I knew how to use the breath and get that sound out, right? And then after years and years and years of just … It felt like kind of banging my head against the wall sometimes, I guess. And I started getting involved heavy into my fundraising for cancer research and marathon coaching for cancer research. And I was getting so much success with that, that eventually what happened … And I thought about this when I wrote the book, how did I end up here, where I haven’t really been doing what I set out to do, what I moved from Toronto to California to do 30 years ago? Where did it go?

So I really think I got tired of banging my head against the wall. I didn’t respect the talent that I was given, to nurture it, even if only an hour a day. I didn’t respect that, and instead I turned to everything else that was being very successful, and was making money and doing really well at helping other people achieve goals in fitness and wellbeing. And that’s what happened.

So, when that doctor at the East-West Medicine, before my very first acupuncture appointment, showed me the Chinese characters that said stagnation, and that represented cancer, I knew. I knew that day, that that stagnation had to end with my music career. And that day, I started to plan, this book is going to be done, we will have music with it, because it’s a part of the healing process. And then you learn, you learn. When you are healing, boy, do you learn how healing music can be. Definitely. So that’s how acupuncture came in.

On Finding Time for Music

I have one more question for you, and it does kind of tie into getting back to your music. Another quote from your book, you said, “I dove into every project full force, leaving no room for my passion for music,” and this is when you were discussing your other professions, such as Pilates teaching, marathon coaching, and personal training kind of taking over your singing career. So, I’m wondering if you have any advice for singers on how they can find balance in their lives so they still have time for music.

Chrissy Lomax:
Balance is the main key to our lives in everything, right? And that is something that I had to really discover in my year of treatment. It was like going through the dark tunnels of treatment and it was like, “This is your life. Where did you screw up? What could you have done better? What are you proud of?” All those things were hitting me like crazy, because of course, you’re facing a disease. If you don’t hit it, it could kill you. When it turns out that you don’t have any time to practice, pick up your guitar, sit at the piano, pick up your horn, whatever it is, write a song, write words, then you’ve got to revisit your schedule. And that’s the only way that I can think of doing …

We have to put ourselves in our schedule every day. There’s always going to be something else that’s more important to do than to sit down and practice. Right? And we will never have time to practice and take the time for our careers, and it takes practice. I mean, I’m a Pilates instructor and I practice just about every day because that’s what it is. It’s practice. I’m never going to be perfect, but I am going to be better and better at it, just like with my singing, with songwriting. During treatment, that notebook was beside me all the time, and words poured out of me, like I said, “like dirty dishwater” sometimes. And sometimes they were words I wanted to show somebody. Sometimes they were words that I wanted to put to music. Sometimes they were words I just wanted to throw out and not see again, but I got it out.

And that’s what music does. It’s healing for us, so it’s really important for us to keep putting ourselves in the schedule. It’s amazing. And then you say, “Okay, well at 2:00 today, I’m going to be able to sit down and just spend time with …” either a notebook, write some lyrics, get your thoughts out. It might turn into something. You don’t know. It might be a hook. You just don’t know. Pick up your guitar. Maybe just sit and start fiddling around. You never know what’s going to come out, but until you take the time and put yourself in the schedule and make yourself a priority, make your passion a priority, it’s just going to get put on the back burner. And mine did for many years.

I didn’t stop writing songs. I don’t think a songwriter ever stops writing songs. You’re always seeing a good idea for a song in there, you know? Right? You never stop. You never stop, but it’s about actually taking that and then completing it and creating a gift for yourself.

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