Young mom's song to be used in cancer-awareness campaign

Lillian Simmons lsimmons@cbncompass.ca
Published on February 25, 2012
Dana Cox plays a tune on her favourite guitar. Her first single, "No Time For You," will be released next month. - Photo by Lilian Simmons/Special to The Telegram

When Dana Cox sings “No Time For You,” people cry. The young mother of three wrote it while on her way home one day from a radiation treatment in St. John’s. The “you” she refers to is cancer.

“But it’s not a sad song,” she protests. “I don’t cry when I sing it and I didn’t cry when I wrote it.”

Perhaps it’s not sadness that brings people to tears. Perhaps it’s just the simple straight-from-the heart honesty of the singer and her song.

Relaxed, sipping coffee at her dining room table, she tells her story with candid sincerity.

Cox , her husband Todd and their three children — Spencer, 8, Bella, 6, and Claire, 4 — live with Dana’s parents, Wayne and Hertha Blackwood, in Salmon Cove.

The song, which is currently being recorded as her first single, was written “just to get out what was in my head,” she says.

On the drive home from the treatment, she stopped several times, each time typing part of the emerging song into the note section of her phone.

“By the time I got home I had the song written, start to finish, music, the whole kit and kaboodle. And it wasn’t for any purpose as such. … It was just the fuss of having to make sure there was someone there to watch the kids, you can’t make any plans, you have to go to St. John’s every day for 30-plus days. It was a real nuisance. I was getting a little ticked off with it, to be honest, to the point where I thought I’ve got to get this out because I was so irritated. I certainly didn’t have time for (cancer). I had a life, I had kids, I had a husband, a job.”

Roller coaster

Cox discovered a lump in her breast in May 2010. Although her husband urged her to get it checked right away, she didn’t.

“I totally forgot about it after that. Obviously, it wasn’t causing any pain, and I just forgot about it.”

A month later she noticed an indentation in her breast, which looked somewhat triangular. Earlier that year, two of her mother’s sisters had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

“One of them had mentioned the doctor talking about indentation and Mom just happened to mention it to me in passing and that’s what I remembered. And I thought, perhaps I should go to my doctor.”

On June 3, she did, and was scheduled for an ultrasound the next day, followed by a mammogram. A week later, she found herself in a surgeon’s office.

“He told me right then and there, we’re going to take this out, we’re not going to do a biopsy — in his words — to confirm what we already know. Twelve days later, June 15, I had surgery. It was unbelievable.”

It’s odd, she says, how certain events were coincidental.

“That was in St. Anthony. We were living on the Northern Peninsula, in Pond Cove. I was teaching in Plum Point. He was a doctor who was filling in. He got there when I got there and he left the day after my post-op appointment. It was like he fell right from the heavens. He came there for me and he left right after, that’s what it felt like.”

Cox went through several surgeries (sentinel node biopsies) and 11 lymph nodes were removed. One was affected with the disease.

Meanwhile, in January, five months prior to the diagnosis, she and her husband had made the decision to move to the Avalon Peninsula. They wanted to be closer to family and check out some work opportunities. In February, they had an offer on their house, but they were unable to move until the end of the school year. The buyer offered to purchase the house and have them rent it until June.

“It was as if the stars aligned and everything just fell right into place. We didn’t have the worry of the house. He took over the house in April. I was diagnosed in June.”

After moving to Salmon Cove, Cox did six rounds of chemotherapy at Carbonear Hospital and 30 radiation treatments in St. John’s.

Last year, she went to a breast cancer retreat in St. John’s, where she met Paula Tessier, development officer with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF).

“We hit it off right from the get-go.”

She was asked to sing “No Time For You” at the retreat.

“I’ve never been so nervous about singing in my entire life. I couldn’t even breathe sensibly. The song got a very warm reception.”

Since then she’s performed it at various events in the province.

She says the support she’s received from family, friends and strangers has been overwhelming.

Idea guys

A short time later, Tessier introduced Cox to Dan Villeneuve, who is part owner of a company called Big Idea Guys in San Jose, Calif., which markets guitar picks under the name Hot Picks USA.

Hot Picks has teamed up with the CBCF in a campaign called Pick Hope to raise money and awareness.

Tessier arranged for Cox and Villeneuve to meet at a coffee shop in St. John’s, where she played the song for him.

“He’s a wonderful man, very enthusiastic, energetic, a real go-getter.”

Through the generosity of Villeneuve’s company and Stagehouse Recording Artist Studio in St. Philip’s, Cox ’s first single is now nearing completion.

“No Time For You” will be launched March 21 during a national Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign that will kick off in St. John’s.

Unexpected return

In September 2011, Cox noticed some back pain and thought she had pulled a muscle.

When it didn’t get better, she went to her doctor to have it checked. Two days before Christmas, she was on the phone booking appointments for bone scans.

“It’s a Christmas we won’t soon forget,” she says.

On Jan. 15, Cox learned the cancer had returned.

“It’s now in my lowest rib in my back and from what they can tell it’s the only place that it is at this point. So it doesn’t mean treatments right now, only a matter of changing pills. No chemo, no radiation at this point, until it spreads. Hopefully that won’t be for a while,” she says. “The nature of the beast is that once it hits your bones, it’s no longer curable.”

There is no tumour, but the bone is disintegrating, thinning out. If the medication works, the bone should start to regenerate.

“I asked about having the rib removed. I just wanted it out,” she says, pausing with a laugh. “I was really excited. I wanted the rib on the other side taken out too, to give me a smaller waistline.”

Cox will have scans done every three months, the next one in April.

“My cancer is estrogen receptor positive and PR (progesterone receptor) positive. It feeds off estrogen.”

She is getting injections to shut down the production of estrogen, forcing her into early menopause.

The second diagnosis was an unexpected blow, but she doesn’t buckle.

“I forget what’s going on. I’ve felt like this right on through my treatments. I’ve felt wonderful. I was tired and a little run down, but that was minor. But this recurrence threw me for a loop because I still forget that I have it. They said I’m a very unusual case because normally they find it on more than one bone.

 “For those first few days when I let myself think this is not curable, it was overwhelming. When I look at my kids, when I think about their future and, will I or will I not be a part of that — it was rough.”

But while she is honest with herself, she doesn’t let her thoughts go in that direction.

“Right now we have a future. Whatever that holds, we’ll deal with it then. I know no other way to go through this. As it stands right now I’m going to be there for everything that happens.”

Cox and her husband have been together 17 years, and married for 11.

“He was my high school sweetheart,” she says.

They know the “roller coaster ride” has had an effect on their children and they have tried to keep them informed. Better that than they find out from someone else, she says.

“When the second diagnosis came, Todd didn’t want to tell them.”

It wasn’t easy.

“Mom’s not going to lose her hair, or be sick,” they told the children. “Cancer is kind of like school. You’re scared at first, but every day it gets a bit easier.”

Cox continues to write songs for what she hopes will eventually be part of an original album. And with siblings and parents who sing “beautiful harmonies” together, she would like to get her family involved.

“Back in June of 2010, I thought I was dying and I wasn’t. Now, knowing that it’s back, knowing that it’s no longer curable, I want this album. Not for me, but so that if something — God forbid — happens, then my kids will have it.”