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updated: 4/24/2013 11:28 AM

Voices of Hope: Lombard singer stands by best friend with cancer

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  • Kristine Johnson sings with Voices of Hope in honor of family and friends who have had cancer, and especially because of her connection with a childhood friend who was recently diagnosed.

       Kristine Johnson sings with Voices of Hope in honor of family and friends who have had cancer, and especially because of her connection with a childhood friend who was recently diagnosed.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

Kristine Johnson, Lombard

It happened again. Every time we sing the song "I'll Stand by You" during our weekly Voices of Hope rehearsals, tears well up in my eyes. I try not to let the drops of emotion fall on my music, but a few have spilled out on this song; I can see the warped spots on the pages. I'm not alone with this. I've heard fellow singers say, "If I could only get through this song without crying."

What makes the tears fall? My friend from fifth grade, Betsy, has breast cancer. She was just diagnosed in November and is undergoing chemotherapy sessions now.

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Oh, I've known others who have had cancer: my father, stepfather, other friends. But besides being one of my closest and dearest friends, Betsy is also my age. Perhaps that brings my mortality a little closer to reality.

Anyway, back to singing. As someone who has never had cancer, I can only imagine what Betsy and those singers in Voices of Hope who have or have had cancer are going through. When I visited Betsy in Virginia over spring break I could see my friend in the throes of fatigue, loss of appetite and hair, and bodily havoc. But I could also see hope and optimism and light at the end of what probably seemed like an endless tunnel. And it is this hope that radiates from the group.

At first I felt neutral about going to Saturday morning practices, but after seeing Betsy's photo on Facebook and especially after visiting her, singing with Voices of Hope took on a whole new meaning. The lyrics had more impact. The melodies resounded more deeply. Greeting my fellow singers seemed more important. Learning the music became more urgent (besides, the actual concert date was closing in).

Over the years, I have learned there are many ways to "voice" your care and concern for those with cancer. Whether it be a concert, fundraising walk/run, a phone call or card or visit, giving the caregiver a respite, or donating money; you can become involved. And for those with cancer, I have learned that you don't need to go through this devastating experience alone.

Remember these words from "I'll Stand by You:"

Take me in into your darkest hour

And I'll never desert you.

The best part of singing with this warm and welcoming group was brought home by choral director Bonnie Roberts in her introductory remarks about the project: "We sing in a chorus to be a part of something larger than our ourselves," she reminded us. What a difference we'll make musically when we perform on April 28. "Hallelujah!"

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