Thursday, April 26, 2012
I have been driving myself crazy in silence since February 2nd of this year. It is the silence that has been torturous! It has been a spiritual silence & a forced physical one...and now I need to release the truth, however scary or painful it may be. This shocking & life-altering event has made me ask myself the question I had always hoped I would never have to ask: "If I am not my voice, who am I? If I am not my voice, how can I function? If I am not my voice, will they still care...love me." It began on New Year's Eve, I believe. Just noticed that during my last song on stage, my voice gave out. It did not cause any alarm because when you have a demanding vocal schedule as I've had, from time to time, your voice will betray you. But it was how the new year of 2012 began. In January, I had the month off...a very much needed month off. But whenever I was on the air, it seemed I had laryngitis. Laryngitis is cute when it lasts a day or two. You get all sorts of compliments on how "sexy" your voice is sounding. But it lasted almost three weeks. In the past - 3 times to be exact - I have had nodules on my vocal chords. Nodules are like small calluses on your vocal chords, they are commonly found on those who use their voice more than normally: singers, teachers, lawyers, speakers etc. I really believed that's what was going on - and I had overcome them in the past & with lots of therapy & vocal rest, I've gotten rid of them. But just to be safe, I decided to check it out. This has been the turn of events: FEBRUARY 2nd - Visit to my friend, Gateano Fava, who is also a speecho pathologist. He performed a stroboscopic exam. In English, he put a tube down my nose into my throat that contains a camera...they are able to see your vocal chords best that way. Diagnosis: Vocal polyp on right side. Referred to a laryngologist for futher evaluation and confirmation. Okay, I'm slightly nervous, but open-minded that this is not a big problem. FEBRUARY 3RD - The Quiet One came with me (yes, we're still together & he's still GREAT) Emergency appointment with laryngolgoist, Dr. Ivey, Director of Laryngology at Columbia University Medical Center. Had to be numbed & stroboscope down my nose again. She had me sing on the vowel 'Eee' while it was down my throat...quite hard not to gag. Diagnosis: Vocal polyp on right side with hemorrhage...NO! A polyp is a growth...it can sometimes be cancerous, but in vocal chords, usually benign. Wow, how ironic...exactly what happend to singer, Adele! Dr. Ivey tells me I need to be on vocal rest NOW...meaning no speaking - for a week! No radio work this weekend. NO singing. But I have a show on February 11th?! PANIC - the worst I've ever felt - sets in. She puts me on oral steroids & gives me a list of do's and don'ts for the voice. Don't yell, don't cough, don't whisper, don't talk on the phone, don't sing, don't laugh, don't cry. She tells me she will get me well enough to sing on the 11th, but we have to get the blood vessels to heal quickly. Stunned, I go home and immediately email my manager to inform him of the turn of events. I have the Quiet One talk to people on my behalf...and I feel as if I'm out of body, numb. FEBRUARY 9TH - Hadn't spoken in 6 days. Dr. Ivey takes more video footage of my vocal chords. A little bruising still there, but major swelling has gone down. Polyp is still there. She clears me to perform & tells me not to do anything too demanding, so I remove a song from my repertoire. The doctor also tells me that as soon as I sing, I must go quiet again. No talking to anyone. All I can think of is 'Does she understand that right after the show on the 11th in Chicago, the people EXPECT me to stay & take pics?" I get a few emails from management asking if I can take shows for March. I have no idea how to answer. I have become increasingly impressed with the Quiet One's unfound talent of reading my lips. All I can say is thank God for email, texts and an application on my phone that can say for me whatever I type. I feel horrible, but relieved that I have the green light to sing on the 11th. FEBRUARY 11tTH - The show is in Chicago. The hardest time I've ever had not speaking. You will never notice how much you take speaking for granted until you can't speak. Something as simple as ordering food at a restaurant becomes a chore. My road manager just looks at me...and says, "You sure you can do this today?" No. No. I am not sure. I have no idea what to do. I cannot cancel this show, it's Studio 63 in Chicago - an amazing place that has booked me for MANY years... but I wish I could. Many people are counting on me to sing. I spend the day in my hotel room. I try to nap, but I can't. I drink so much tea that my pee is clear. And then I turn on the tv to discover that Whitney Houston has died. And I can't even cry about that! How does Whitney die? I used her songs to audition back in '85 & '86...Saving All My Love - it's one of the songs that got me discovered. I'm devastated. Can't move. Freaking tragedy, a great loss. Time to get ready. I get to the club, and the owner wants to know why I'm so serious. My road manager simply says I have laryngitits and I'm saving my voice. I walk onto the stage. Holy...it's packed! More people than I've ever seen. I do my best to stop obsessing about how I'm going to sound. My best friend, David M who resides in NY, surprised me by showing up at my show. Some of the fear ebbed - but not enough to take away the urge to cry. I get on stage. God is always with me, I swear, because I was able to do it. I sang the songs, and I was able to hold what I call the money-making notes! Whew. Relief. I'm quiet but I take pics & sign autographs. Thank you, Lord!! FEBRUARY 12TH - I am at the edge of my seat watching Adele. I know that we both had polyps on the vocal chords that hemmoraghed. I know she had to cancel her American tour. I know she was not able to speak for 3 weeks,and no shows for MONTHS! And now, her first time singing in public since her surgery, she's singing on the Grammy's. Talk about pressure. I know I wasn't supposed to cry but I was truly elated for her! She was amazing!! It was as if nothing was ever wrong to begin with! FEBRUARY 16TH - The first of two laser procedures is performed. PDL laser treatment...this procedure was to attempt to close off the blood vessels that had ruptured. There's some throat pain, but nothing I cannot handle. No speaking again for at least 48 hours. Then begin intensive speech therapy immediately thereafter. I was awake for the whole thing. The numbing that has to be done to my nose & throat was the worst part of it honestly. Just not fun. But it wasn't as bad as I had imagined. And I confess, I smelled a strange odor...oh, that's the smell of burning flesh. Yuck. MARCH 12TH - Second laser procedure is done. Same smell. But I am VERY excited because this procedure is going to shrink the polyp or irradicate it altogether. I go home with orders not to speak for 48 hours & return to speech therapy. MARCH 16TH - Speech therapist wants to look at my vocal chords again to see how far we can go with exercises. My nose is numbed again. UGH! I HATE it! And then he and his assistant go quiet. What? What? What is it? He excuses himself. About 10 minutes later he tells me - you have a lot of bleeding on your vocal chords & the right one is stiff...you CANNOT do your radio show this Sunday. For the SECOND time I have to call my boss at KTU and tell him I cannot come in. First time, he was concerned & completely supportive. Second time, he was surprised, concerned & supportive, but I became scared if this keeps up - could I lose my job? MARCH 17TH - Show at Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, NJ. Doctor has cleared me to sing...but I can only sing two songs: No Reason to Cry & Love You Will You Love Me. I get onstage...freaking scared - almost scared stiff. The crowd was so excited that I felt guilty. How can I perform for these people that are expecting perfection? The entire time I sang No Reason to Cry, I couldn't stop obsessing about how I sounded. Am I ok? Is my voice loud enough? What am I going to do when the high notes come? My first attempt...voice cracked. Oh, my God! After the song, I just decided to be honest. I told the crowd about the surgery...and they were so understanding...and I was able to finish the show with a LOT more confidence. So relieved I was able to get that done! PRESENT DAY - After several meetings with the doctor, the speech therapist and a second opinion, surgery is necessary. The polyp is keeping me from singing higher notes that are normally simple for me. The polyp is also allowing air to escape while I sing when it is not supposed to. The polyp can also hemmorhage again and/or become bigger - rendering singing extremely difficult to impossible. I have no choice. Surgery will be taking place on May 30th. No speaking at all for one week. And...NO SINGING for 3 months!! I had to go home, had to break the news to my management, my family, and KTU. To make matters worse, I had to cancel MANY shows. Lots of people begged me not to cancel - many told me to drink tea and it will be alright - they don't understand how serious this is. So I had a show on New Year's Eve, February 11th and I have one more to do on May 23rd before the surgery. This has been exhausting - especially mentally and financially. I finally finally finally broke down. I think I cried for two hours or so. And then I called my mom. I am still that little girl that when she has a boo-boo needs to call my mommy. I am hopeful. I was told by THREE doctors that once I do this, and follow all the orders, I will be "pleasantly surprised" with my voice, and I will be singing better than ever. That's wonderful. But I am also afraid. No singing for three months. Singing is my spiritual breathing for me. What if something God forbid, went wrong? What if I could never sing again? What am I going to do? I don't have a Plan B! Singing has been my one and only vision. But I must do what I must do...either way, if I don't do this at all, I will eventually not sing. But I worry if promoters and booking agents are going to forget about me, or be angry, or think 'She's done.' I worry. If I don't have a voice to sing...who am I if I am not my voice. I have done a LOT of thinking...this polyp is a result of singing in some clubs with horrific sound systems and improperly unfunctioning microphones for the last 25 years...and because there were MANY times I was supposed to turn things down, where I took too much on my plate...and pushed myself. Because I didn't say no when I was supposed to, now I have to say no for three whole months! For one week beginning this Monday, I will be able to put all these worries on hold. KTU is sending me & the Quiet One to the Cayman Islands - it is a job to discover what Cayman Islands are all about & report back to the listeners & record commercials. This "vacation" is a blessing. I apologize. This is the LONGEST blog I have ever written. But I have decided to tell you the TRUTH about what is happening to me. I hope that it will teach others that we are all challenged in life...and that we MUST put ourselves first. We are useless to others if we are not healthy. So please pray for me, and if people ask 'Where has Judy been?' please tell them this story & ask for their prayers too. Believe it or not, this has been harder for me than when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This will be a LONG journey to healing...but I am taking that first step. Looks like I have become the Quiet One...as least for a little while.