Betsy Grant née Sutherland is a strong and independent 55-year-old composer, pianist, recording artist, and music teacher based in Northern California. In late 2014, she was torn away from a life of music and thrown into a very different chapter in her life when she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). Unable to work and earn an income while going through chemotherapy, Betsy had been living off government disability benefits which do not come close to meeting her basic living expenses: rent, food, and utilities. After several months of shortfall in cash flow, Betsy has completely depleted her savings and was facing financial despair with a real possibility of homelessness.
The fight against Stage III breast cancer is an extremely challenging one. Millions of women before her had fought and millions more are currently fighting that fight. Betsy is a strong woman and will not go down without giving everything she has to fight back. It’s a very long road ahead with several rounds of treatment. However, she takes some comfort in knowing she is not alone and there are friends to lean on in a time of need.
As friends and former music students of Betsy, we are here to lend a hand to help her get through these dark moments. Any stress of financial burden that can be alleviated will make it easier for her to focus on the path of full recovery. During this time of healing (whenever her energy allows), she plans to do what she loves more than anything else: composing music, playing the piano, and sharing the wonder and magic of music with the world. It is only through music, can she find the necessary strength, the will, and the light to guide her through a long dark tunnel. Your help will make an immediate impact to another human being who is receiving your compassion, kindness and generosity with a very grateful and open heart.
The Ask for Help
Aside from the usual “battle scars” in the cancer fight (loss of hair, dizziness, excruciating pain, sheer exhaustion, confronting mortality), Betsy had to endure another kind of pain. Throughout her adult life, she took great pride in living the life of a strong and independent woman. At first, she saw cancer as something of a personal fight – a test of her inner strength and will – but no one else. She avoided asking anyone for assistance because it was counter to her notion of independence and her sense of self. Giving up that independence and self-reliance was losing one of most important things after life and music – her character. She struggled with this tension internally for quite some time.
However, after several months of not being able to work and exhausting her savings, she was faced with rather brutal and harsh realities: seek out assistance or become homeless. Through much anguish and torment, she reluctantly approached several relatives and friends for financial assistance – and was able to tap a personal loan, just enough to get by.
Betsy’s Musical Background
It is impossible to talk about Betsy without talking about music. For most of Betsy’s life, the love for music and the passion for piano have been the dominant forces in her journey. In the last four and half decades, she sought to share her love and passion with the world through her composition, performance, recording, and instruction.
First recording Bach at age ten, Betsy has won piano performance awards and competitions nationally and internationally. Career highlights include a TV special in Jakarta, Indonesia, and chamber performance with violinist James Stark in Cambridge, England. She has released several CD albums for which she is both the composer and performer. Her music had been played on the radio as well as on her YouTube channel. She has also taken on dozens of music students, teaching keyboard skills, appreciating music, and composition (many of them in Los Gatos, Saratoga, and Cupertino area).
For most of her life and especially during this difficult time, Betsy frequently feels deep emotions for which words cannot fully capture. Instead, the only channel that can express and communicate the full range of her emotional experience is music. It is the most intuitive and effective medium in which she can connect and make sense of the world. Music is simply the language she speaks directly from the innermost sanctum of her soul.
It is no understatement to say that music is Betsy’s life – but not just in the conventional sense of composing, performing, or teaching for a livelihood. For Betsy, it is much more so as music cuts through everything that is mundane and it touches the soul with tenderness, love, passion, and awe. It is quite a difficult task to describe how profoundly and deeply music touches the soul for those who have not experienced it firsthand. Perhaps the closest analogy would be what one experiences while watching a beautiful sunset as the bright (but not harsh) radiant sun is marching slowly behind the horizon. At that moment, one cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the sheer splendor and glory; the gentle warmth evoking deep sense of fulfillment for all the worldly needs and wants have vanished instantly. In return, the only feeling is pure gratitude for being alive and taking part not only in that moment but in this world. That connection to the world proves to be an elusive privilege for many of us. For Betsy, music is that sunset connecting her inner soul to the world – a gift which defines her existence. It is also what drives her to compose, to perform, and to teach – all in the hope of sharing that magic and wonder of music with those around her.
About inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)
How is inflammatory breast cancer different from the more common types of breast cancer?
Inflammatory breast cancer causes symptoms that are often different from those of more common breast cancers. It often does not cause a breast lump, and it might not show up on a mammogram. Because it doesn't look like a typical breast cancer, it can be harder to diagnose.
IBC also tends to be more aggressive—it grows and spreads much more quickly— than more common types of breast cancer. Based on the way breast cancer is staged, it is never early stage breast cancer. It is always at least stage IIIB (locally advanced) when it is first diagnosed because the breast cancer cells have grown into the skin. Often, though, it has already spread (metastasized) to distant parts of the body when it is diagnosed, making it stage IV. The advanced stage of IBC, along with the tendency to grow and spread quickly, makes it harder to treat successfully than most other types of breast cancer.