How Music is Helping Me Fight Cancer

Lindsey Best
Andrew Youssef
[Editor's Note: Longtime concert photographer Andrew Youssef found out almost two years ago that he had Stage IV Colon Cancer. In that time, he has continued to shoot tons of music events for our sister paper OC Weekly on top of other freelance work and working a day job at a hospital, of all places. As he continues to fight for his life, this series allows him to tell his story in his own words.]

By Andrew Youssef

One of my favorite bands in the world is Hum. You may remember the band's alt-radio hit "Stars" from the mid-'90s. As I get older, I have realized that the music I listened to religiously during my late teens and early twenties left an indelible mark on my music tastes. Hum's combination of heavy space-rock guitars, unique bass parts and complex drumming had me listening to the albums You'd Prefer an Astronaut and Downward Is Heavenward on constant repeat while I studied organic chemistry in college. I had seen Hum a number of times in the '90s and even serendipitously in London while on vacation after seeing a flier in Tower Records.

See also: -Last Shot: A Concert Photographer's Battle With Cancer -The Most Important Time to Follow Your Passion is When it's Hardest -Slayer Helped Get Me Through Chemotherapy

Hum, unfortunately, broke up, but it would occasionally reunite for special shows. Back in September 2011, Hum announced that it would play two shows. The first would be at the High Dive in Champaign, Illinois, and the second would be at the A.V. Club festival in Chicago. I had only been back in action photographing shows for a few months after my initial surgery and still was on chemotherapy. While the idea of traveling across the country while undergoing treatment and not being at full strength was daunting, I was determined to make the trip because Hum rarely plays, and I figured the boost of seeing the band again live would be worth the risks.

Preparation was key, as I made sure I had extra medications and supplies with me in case I ran into problems while I was away. Fortunately, my good friend Jessie served as my host and did all the driving, picking me up in Indianapolis and driving to Champaign, and then onward to Chicago. My mind was blown when I was contacted by Hum's drummer, Bryan St. Pere, thanking me for flying out numerous times to see Hum play.

When I was diagnosed, I had e-mailed Bryan, asking him if I could send him some of my older photos of Hum to be autographed for an eventual gallery I will host. Arriving in Champaign a few hours before the show to pick up my signed photos, I managed to meet up with Bryan and lead singer/guitarist Matt Talbott, who graciously spent a few hours with me, answering every question I had stored up throughout the years. It was a moment I would never forget and cherish to this very day, as I remember how weary I was from the travel.

Moments before the band was supposed to start, I can recall being extremely tired and concerned about being up front to take photos; I was scared about passing out. Once Hum started playing, the adrenaline took over; I felt as if I was actually healthy again and transported back to my early twenties. It is difficult to ignore the power of live music as it kept me standing through my exhaustion and weakness from chemotherapy. Most of my friends were highly concerned about me traveling this far for a concert, but after spending a few hours hanging out with the band, and then seeing them in a small club, I knew it was the best decision at that time.

When Hum was playing at full volume and I was photographing the members in action, those precise moments are among those when I felt "normal," and they are invaluable to me. I realized then that music and my favorite band were helping me to stay alive, giving me the strength to fight this disease.

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