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Music with a Mission

Dec 20, 2011

Members of the rock band No Evidence of Disease—most ASCO members and all gynecologic oncologists—play for fun and cancer awareness

“Doctor” and “rock star” are common responses to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Among the lucky few getting to realize both of those dreams are the six multi-talented oncologists (John Boggess, MD; Joanie Mayer Hope, MD; Nimesh Nagarsheth, MD; William Robinson, MD; John Soper, MD; and William Winter, MD) who make up the rock band No Evidence of Disease (N.E.D.) and use music as a platform for raising awareness about women’s cancers.

ASCO member and N.E.D. vocalist Dr. Joanie Mayer Hope, of Denali OBGYN Clinic, Anchorage, Alaska, spoke with ASCO Connection about her love of music and medicine.

AC: When did your interest inmusic start?
Dr. Hope: I’ve been singing and playing guitar since I was a kid, but I’ve never been in a rock band until this one. A lot of the guys in the band, who are all gynecologic oncologists, have been playing for years as well.

AC: What led you to oncology asa career?
I became interested in gynecologic oncology when I was an OBGYN resident. I was impressed by the breadth of patient care that the field offered, with surgical and chemotherapy management, and the nature of the patient-doctor relationship, as many times you’re with the patient from the time they walk in the door of clinic for the remainder of their life.

AC: How did N.E.D. originally come together?
Dr. Hope: We first formed as a novelty act at the 2008 Society for Gynecologic Oncologists (SGO) conference. One of the event planners, Larry Maxwell, thought it would be really fun to have a membership rock and roll concert. He knew four GYN oncologists who were musicians and asked them if they’d be willing to do a show—they reluctantly said “yes.” They also sent out a call for auditions to the SGO membership. My fellowship director at the time forwarded that to me and I submitted a tape. We laugh now because only two people responded to that call for auditions—our bass player and me. Many of us didn’t meet until the hotel lobby in Tampa when the conference started. We practiced some rock-and-roll cover songs a few times and then did the show. We had a great time.

Because some of us were living in New York at the time, we had the idea that this could be a powerful medium foreducation and change, so we brought up the idea of doing original songs and got an audition in front of Motema Records, a small record label. We collaborated and got six songs out with a professional producer, and that was our first EP.

AC: How do you keep the collaboration going with band members living in different cities?
Dr. Hope: We write over the Internet—someone will get an idea and send it to someone else, who will develop it further and send it on, and that’s how songs get generated. We have a conference call every two weeks to strategize. We’ve also been doing shows around the country that have been part fundraising and part educational, and we spend time rehearsing before those performances.

AC: How would you describe your sound and influences?
Dr. Hope: U2 meets Bonnie Raitt. We have a pretty wide range of music, probably because we started out as six individuals writing music. Moving forward, I think we’ll develop and hone our sound. Some of our songs are a little harder and edgier, others are more soft and bluesy, some have a country twang, but it’s all rock and roll.

AC: What’s the story behind your new album?
Dr. Hope: It’s called Six Degrees. It represents the idea of “six degrees of separation” connecting everyone, because everyone is touched by cancer, and also the fact that we’re six MDs. On the album, I really like the songs “Celestial Visions” and “Let the Singing Begin.” I wrote the song “Intoxication” about my daughter, so it’s near and dear to me. All the songs touch different things in me.

AC: Do your patients come to your concerts?
Dr. Hope: We haven’t performed in my home state yet, but there have been a few shows where my patients happened to be there. Not many of my patients have heard us live, although a lot of them are really excited by the idea and have our albums. We’ve played in the other members’ communities so their patients have had a chance to come hear us play.

AC: What do you hope patients with cancer and cancer survivors take away from your music?
Dr. Hope: Music can be healing in and of itself—it can be spiritually uplifting, and it enables you to process your emotions. But the fact that we’re six oncologists making music with a mission of raising awareness about women’s cancer can be a powerful medium for making positive change and bringing the spotlight to cancers that deserve more attention.

AC: What’s next for N.E.D.?
Dr. Hope: A documentary is being made about us: “Dancing with N.E.D.” The crew has been following us and some of our patients for more than two years, and it will tell the story of our music and our work. Being in the band has been an amazing journey and even if it ended tomorrow, it’s exceeded every expectation I had. I hope we’re able to take it to a bigger scale, but we’re moving one step at a time.

Visit nedtheband.com to learn more about N.E.D’s members and mission, browse their music, and find updates on their upcoming documentary, “Dancing with N.E.D.”

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